Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

We are one traveling family, in case you haven’t picked up on that. We say, “Take the trip!” because you just never know when you won’t be able to. Which means I have a lot of traveling pics and stories to share, and sometimes my friends get really tired of hearing and reading about them, so I decided to start sharing them here and if you want to read them you can. I realized back a couple of years ago when I started this blog that I hadn’t shared several trips we’ve been on since then, so I figured I’d back up a bit and start sharing now. And where better to start than with the one time, in the summer of 2018, that we got to visit the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) to have a tour and see a real crash test. It was one of the more “cool” trips we’ve been on, but we didn’t just happen into it. This trip took some planning.

It all started when a third-grade Jackson became obsessed with safety ratings in automobiles. He would YouTube various crash test, then run into the room and say, “You have to see how horrible this car did in the side-impact crash test!” At first we had NO idea what he was talking about. I inquired more than once about whether we should be letting our nine-year-old even watch crash tests, but Jerimiah assured me that they were done in an attempt to make cars safer. Jackson backed up this claim with an old Dateline episode he had stumbled across, that we watched ad nauseam for about two weeks, before I said, “Wait, what is the IIHS?”

The IIHS is a non-profit organization funded by insurance companies, founded in 1954 to research car safety in the hopes to reduce the number of motor vehicle collisions, and the rate of injuries and amount of property damage in vehicle crashes. In addition to carrying out research, like the crash tests, they produce ratings for passenger vehicles, and certain consumer products like booster seats. They also conduct research on road design and traffic regulations, and have been involved in promoting policy decisions. You can learn more about the IIHS at their website.

From a personal standpoint, this is a really cool place that is doing awesome work, and Jackson figured that out very quickly, then got us on board. Sometime in May of 2018, he convinced me that they had a museum at their headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, and asked if we could go visit that summer. I told him maybe, as moms do, and went on about my business. A few days later I Googled the IIHS and scoured their website for the museum. When I didn’t find anything about it, I sent them an email. In the email I explained that my very smart, very unique child (who knew everything about the IIHS) said there was a museum, could they point me in the direction of it.

A woman kindly responded the same day to inform me that the “museum” isn’t so much a “museum” as it is a working crash-test facility, although yes, it has been referred to as a museum as they have kept several previously crashed cars and they do give tours. Only they don’t give tours to just anyone off the street, and most children are not allowed. But then she said something interesting, she said, “Tell me more about your son.” So I did.

Two weeks later we were invited guests at the IIHS, to not only have a tour with a real mechanical engineer who works on the crash tests, her name was Becky, but we were there on a day scheduled to see a live crash test, along with several groups from different insurance companies, and car companies. We got lucky that it was Honda and Volkswagen, two of our favorite car brands. We are loyal VW owners, and were quite pleased to learn that because of that we are in one of the top safety-rated brands there is.

It was an amazing day for Jackson, sort of like his own version of Disney. Honestly, I kept telling Jerimiah that third-grade Jackson was more nervous, anxious, happy, and excited that day at IIHS than first-grade Jackson ever was on our trip to Disneyworld. Here, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:

When we got there we were greeted like celebrities. Everyone knew of this nine-year-old who loved the IIHS and who knew all he could know about crash testing. We were introduced to Becky, who took us through the “museum” that Jackson had been talking about, which is where they display some of their cars after they have been through a crash-test.

Next we got to see the dummies, and meet a “Dummy” Engineer, who they poke fun at, but really they do amazing work. They buy the crash-test dummies for millions of dollars, then when arms or legs fly off in a crash test, the “Dummy” Engineer makes new ones so they don’t have to keep spending millions on more dummies. It was amazing.

Then it was time for the main event, the side-impact crash test. I have to say, that was some of the coolest shit I’ve seen in my 38 years, especially if you’re a car geek like me.

The cars are put into place, after weeks of prepping them for the crash. This particular VW was ready to be t-boned by a Honda Pilot. The crack in the floor is where the cable aligns the car to hit the other one, but there is not cable pulling it. They didn’t have enough energy on the energy grid to run the lights needed to light this room and a pulley system, so they compress nitrogen to release the car. Because of this, there is like a four-and-a-half minute countdown, during which the excitement intensified for us. Then as the light came on, we knew we were close, so I was able to catch this video:

Yeah, it was pretty cool. And way louder than I thought. If you are really interested in the crash, and well Jackson’s take on all of this, I’m uploading a 20-minute video of nine-year-old Jackson talking about our time at IIHS a few days after we visited below. But for now, I’ll just say that the crash was the highlight, and right after the crash we were able to go down to the crash site and check it out, after they cleaned it up a bit, and got the first readings off their machines. And one of the Engineers even gave Jackson the logo that flew off the Honda. He was way stoked. We waited to go down until most of the people had looked so we could take our sweet time. Meanwhile we stood on the elevated platform and chatted up Becky some more.

When we finally made our way down there, he was stoked to get to see all the equipment and make his own determinations about how the cars both did, and decide what they would be rated. It was awesome to watch a young engineer mind like his at work, while big, adult, engineers talked to him about all the little details of what he was looking at. I mean, yeah, very cool experience. We are so lucky!

Just when we thought the day couldn’t get any more cool, we were introduced to the people who make all the videos that Jackson religiously watches. They gave him a tour of their studio, and he even got to sit in the chair that the engineers sit in when they are being recorded, or when they go on CNN or ABC News. It was all too much for this kid, and his mommy and daddy!

We ended the tour getting to talk with the VW rep who was there to watch the crash test, and learning what Jackson needed to study in order to work at the IIHS (hint: it’s a lot of time and advanced degrees in mechanical engineering). We talked about how all cars have become much safer than the older cars people used to think were safe. Like these old cars. People assumed cars like these were the safest because they were built from steel, but that is very wrong and Jackson would love the opportunity to discuss this further with you. When is a good time to stop by?

There you have it, one of our most awesome family vacations. I really feel like I have cheated Disneyworld here, so maybe I will share that one next, but for now, if you’re ever given an opportunity to see something like this, do it! It was awesome, educational, and completely worth the trip to a cow pasture in the middle of Virginia! Thanks, IIHS and all the people involved in making this day the most special!

Below you will find the official photos from the IIHS that day. We had to wait until the results had been released to the public to share any of these, that’s part of the reason it has taken so long. Oh, and I’m sorta lazy. But thanks for reading!

Here is the really long video, kind of worth it if you don’t expect too much and have the time to be entertained! Remember, for more information you can visit the IIHS or search for their videos on YouTube.

Main points: It was awesome, don’t buy a Ford, by a Volvo!

M.