A rollover crash test at GM's new crash testing center.

A rollover crash test at General Motors' new $10 million crash testing center in Milford, Mich. GM announced that rollover airbags will be standard equipment in all its vehicles by 2012.

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A Smashing Success

Different crash testing groups have different goals. Some, like the government, want to set safety standards and make sure automakers adhere to them. Others want to learn more about accidents themselves, mainly so that accident investigators can reconstruct real-life accidents. Others want to warn consumers of safety risks that might not be covered in government tests. Car makers want to engineer safety systems that will keep their customers safe and help sell more cars. All of these goals lead to one thing: reducing deaths from automotive accidents.

A real-world example of these objectives coming together happened in the early part of the 21st century. SUVs were extremely popular, but they had a high risk for rolling over. Controlled crash tests and accident investigations determined that improperly inflated tires and driver error had contributed to many of the accidents. As a result, the government began assigning roll-over ratings to SUVs and educating drivers about how to change their driving habits when behind the wheel of a larger vehicle. Many automakers engineered and began offering tire pressure monitoring systems to alert drivers when their tires were unsafe. All of this came together because of crash testing.

From that example you can see how crash testing can identify and respond to a problem that puts millions of drivers at risk. Crash testing can also anticipate safety problems and serve as an early warning to consumers. When airbags were first introduced, they were seen as an incredible safety device. Crash testing, however, showed that they had the power to injure and even kill some passengers, especially children. As a result, drivers were warned to sit children in the rear seat or turn their passenger-side airbags off.

What's been the effect of crash testing, and what's in store for crash testing in the future? Read on to find out.