There has been some speculation that older cars are safer due to the heavier, more rigid chassis and heavier, more robust parts being used. Modern car manufacture is completely different to old methods of car construction and these days much lighter materials are used.
Truth of the Matter
Tests have shown however, that if you crash a 1959 Chevrolet versus a 2009 model, in a front offset crash, you see how far this is from the truth. The 1959 buckles badly, the cabin compartment being affected, whereas the seemingly more flimsy 2009 model is much less affected. Simply put, older car frames bend easily when a substantial force (the force of another car) is exerted upon them and they therefore do not have the energy absorption properties of modern cars.
In Europe however, companies such as Mercedes have been practicing crash tests since the 30’s (the US only started in the 60’s). Mercedes and other European manufacturers had made significant progress in motor safety by the sixties, however even today, the difference between a car from the 2000’s and a car from the 90’s is quite stark.
Safety features in modern cars include air bags and, less obviously, crumple zones. Crumple zones are designed to absorb the energy of an impact; as the car changes shape during a collision, the materials deform which actually increases the amount of time the person takes to come to a stop. This therefore reduces the acceleration and force on the person, which thus reduces the injuries caused and reduces the chance of serious injury too.
Furthermore, modern cars have ABS, traction control and a strong safety cage which strengthen the cabin in order to protect the driver and passengers in the event of the car rolling onto its roof and sides. Such features are all also taken into account when motor insurance companies are calculating what they will charge for a car insurance quote. The safer the car is deemed to be, the less risk there is associated to the driver, hence the lower the premium will be.
What is clear therefore is that car safety has moved on leaps and bounds. A lot of the new car technology and safety features can actually be linked to motorsport and, in particular the vast developments that have been made in Formula 1 over the years. Safety has been the number one priority in F1 since the early 90s and the death of Ayrton Senna in 1994. Crumple zones, for example, can be attributed to the developments in F1.