Imagine, if you will, a four-passenger small car that got 32 mpg and could withstand a 50 mph impact -- front or side -- with only minimal injuries to passengers. Pretty cool, huh? A great counter-argument to bozos who claim that only massive gas-guzzlers can be safe.
Now imagine that such a car was built in the 1970s. By federal government contractors.
Jalopnik has the story of Minicar's Research Safety Vehicles, advanced prototypes that the Carter administration's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration created to demonstrate to automakers what was possible in auto safety and build the car of the future -- 1985. They "looked like an AMC Pacer worked over by the set designers of Battlestar Galactica" (original series, obviously) and featured run-flat tires, anti-lock brakes with crash-sensing radar, and dual-stage airbags. These were build by 1979, let me repeat.
With coming of the stupid ages -- a.k.a. the Reagan era -- the RSV's went the way of the solar panels on the White House roof, and our auto industry was set from from government meddling and pressure to make products that would get fewer of us killed:
Like other American inventions such as the VCR, the lithium-ion battery and David Hasselhoff, many of the RSV's technologies only prospered overseas. Anti-lock brakes and air bags were standard on European cars first; Japanese automakers put the first crash-sensing brake system on the market in 2003, nearly 25 years after the RSV sported it. Yet those five-star ratings from NHTSA that have become standard for front crash safety in U.S. cars come from tests at 35 mph, still 15 mph shy of the RSV bar.
Last year, traffic deaths fell to their lowest level since 1961 at 33,963, after remaining stuck at roughly 40,000 for decades, in part because a modern car has more in common with the RSVs than ever before. With smaller cars, tougher fuel rules and bigger worries about oil on the horizon, that 1985 target date for the program may have been set about 30 years too early.
The Bush I era NHTSB eventually destroyed the RSV prototypes -- to "destroy the evidence that you could do much better," suggests Minicars's project manager Don Friedman. Turns out, though, that they didn't succeed; two of the prototypes were still in Minicars' possession.