My father-in-law just purchased a new Jeep Cherokee. My memory of Jeeps was that they were not very safe vehicles. This concerned me because he is going to drive my young children around in that Jeep. So, I looked up the safety rating for the Cherokee. It turns out that it is a fairly safe vehicle.
Not only is his new car safe, but in general new cars are much safer than cars from even twenty years ago. Watch this video from Wired. The video shows crash tests pitting new cars against similar older model cars. The New Car Assessment Program based in Europe tested a 1997 Rover 100 and its modern equivalent a Honda Jazz (Honda Fit in the United States). The vehicles were run into an offset metal barrier at 40 miles per hour. As Wired describes it:
The decades-old Rover does a terrible job protecting its passengers. It’s got airbags, sure, but the crash test dummies inside are so poorly restrained that the driver slides around them; the impact drives the engine into the passengers’ legs, and the doors buckle and twist in ways that would make it difficult for emergency crews to access the car.
The dummies in the Honda fare much better. It’s still a gnarly crash, but a side curtain airbag helps cushion and contain the driver, while the metal structures cocooning the passengers remain rigid and retain their shape. The crash forces don’t appear to travel past the windscreen.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety performed a similar test pitting a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu against a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Aire. Those two vehicles went head to head on an offset track. The test dummy in the Bel Aire was thrown around due to the lack of airbags. The collision compressed the passenger compartment of the Bel Aire. The test dummy would have suffered significant injuries to the head, neck, and legs. Whereas, the crumple zones in the Malibu dispersed the energy of the collision before it reached the front windshield.
With new technology, including airbags and automation, newer vehicles will continue to get safer.