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Watch how two cars made 20 years apart deal with a high-speed crash

Why it matters to you

A car crash is a horrible thing to happen, but if you're unlucky enough to be in one, your chances of survival are better than ever.

Until the perfect autonomous car drives onto the scene, the reality is that accidents, crashes, and pileups are going to keep happening.

The ongoing challenge for automakers is to build a car that isn’t so weak it crumples like a concertina on impact, but yet isn’t so rigid it obliterates any unsuspecting pedestrian who happens to step out in front of it.

A reassuring video released this week by the European New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) — an EU-backed vehicle safety scheme — shows just how much automobile design has improved since 1997, when NCAP performed its very first crash test.

The video (above) shows two cars, manufactured nearly 20 years apart, speeding into a solid block of concrete.

Check out how the 1997 Rover 100 pretty much disintegrates as it slams into the wall. The sole airbag seems to fly off into another part of the car while the engine ends up in the lap of the dummy driver. It’s a horrible mess, and explains why the vehicle only scored one star out of a possible five for occupant safety — and two out of five for pedestrians — when it was rated for safety back in the ’90s.

Now compare that to how a 2015 Honda Jazz (Honda Fit in the U.S.) deals with it. Admittedly, neither impact is pretty, but on close inspection it’s easy to see the improved protection the newer motor offers, advances that secured it an overall five-star rating.

“Safety technologies that were non-existent or optional at most — such as driver and passenger airbags, side protection airbags, belt reminders, and electronic stability control — are now standard on all cars sold in Europe,” NCAP notes on its website.

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NCAP estimates that since it launched its crash tests 20 years ago, more than 78,000 lives have been saved through improved car design. To date, the safety body has published more than 630 safety ratings, crash-tested around 1,800 cars, and spent more than 160 million euros (about $172 million) on helping to make vehicles safer.

Before NCAP’s arrival, car manufacturers selling into Europe only had to meet basic legislative crash test requirements for new vehicles. But the results were never published, leaving consumers in the dark. These days, car buyers can hop over to NCAP’s site to compare safety ratings for each new vehicle coming to market, with the system also serving to motivate manufacturers to build the safest machines possible.

In the U.S., a similar safety program is operated by the National Highway Traffic Administration. Want to find out the safety rating for your vehicle? Then go ahead and input the make and model here.