by Bob Beranek
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Last week I was invited to tour the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) complex in Ruckersville, Va. All I can say is wow. What an impressive place.

What struck me first was the location of the facility. It is situated in the rolling hills of Virginia, away from urban sprawl. The closest neighbors are a herd of cows grazing in the farm fields. The roads to the facility were in the back country and had no centerline markings and were barely wide enough to handle two SUVs meeting one another. My travel mates were wondering if we took a wrong turn.

Once we entered the campus, the grounds were beautifully manicured and the facility was modern, massive and impressive. As we entered the vestibule, the “art” displayed was of wrecked vehicles. One, marking the 50th anniversary of the IIHS, was an almost unrecognizable 1959 Chevrolet, next to a more modern vehicle with substantially less damage, dramatically illustrating that today’s cars are decidedly safer than the older models.

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We were met by two highly experienced IIHS engineers who were the guides for the morning. The tour began with the history of IIHS. They voiced that it is their ultimate goal to help the driving public determine which vehicles are safest through testing and rating crash results. They explained their testing procedures and how they came about designing them. They showed us the coveted Top Safety Picks board on which a vehicle’s report card is displayed. What impressed me is the high number of good grades. We were told that since they have been keeping records, the safety of automobiles has greatly increased. It really is true that you can’t manage what you don’t track.

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The introduction of airbags, air curtains, crush zones, structural redesign and now the technology boom of Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS) have made modern vehicles the safest they have ever been. However, we were reminded that safety can always be improved.

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