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Retired IIHS president credits his work for saving his life in a crash

“The car did its job,” he says of his BMW, which earned a Top Safety Pick award after implementing changes IIHS pushed for

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Talk about carving out your own destiny: Adrian Lund, retired president of the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), has credited the vehicle safety improvements for which he advocated for his surviving a serious car crash last year.

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In August 2021, he was travelling on Interstate 95 from his home in Virginia to Savannah, Georgia. For whatever reason, another driver made a U-turn on the highway and collided with him as she drove in the wrong direction. Estimates are that Lund was travelling between 60 to 65 mph (100 to 105 km/h) and the other driver at 50 mph (80 km/h). The crash spun Lund’s car around and it rolled, coming to rest upside-down on the road shoulder.

Both were driving BMWs — Lund in a 2020 540i, and the other driver in a 2016 228i. Lund suffered serious bruises and cuts to his arm, along with ongoing neck discomfort that he attributes to hanging upside-down after the crash. The other driver, who wasn’t wearing a seat belt, was ejected from her car and died.

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“This was a high-speed crash, one that probably ten years ago, I wouldn’t be here to talk to you about it,” Lund said. His car was named a Top Safety Pick for 2020. “In a crash like this, you don’t come out uninjured. Considering the crash I was in, that I had a frontal, followed by a rollover… the car did its job.”

Lund was with the IIHS for 36 years, joining in 1981 as a behavioural scientist. He became vice-president of research, and then chief operating officer, before becoming president in 2006. During his time with IIHS, in addition to vehicle crash safety, he also focused on such issues as how types of impaired-driving laws affect crashes; state adoptions of primary seat belt laws (which allow police to stop drivers specifically for seat belt infractions); the effectiveness of speed cameras and red-light cameras; and the use of child seats.

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The IIHS is an independent non-profit scientific and educational organization, and was founded in 1959 by three insurance associations. It originally supported safety efforts by other organizations, but became an independent research organization starting in 1969, and later opened its own crash-testing centre.

It can’t federally regulate or mandate safety items or standards – that’s done by NHTSA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – but its research and its safety ratings are considered important enough by consumers and regulatory administrators that automakers will specifically design their vehicles and safety systems to meet IIHS standards.

The Institute recently updated its requirements for its highest Top Safety Pick+ award, requiring vehicles to earn the highest score in all crash tests, plus have headlights rated “Good” or “Acceptable” standard on all trim levels. In 2021 it also updated its side crash test with a heavier barrier that strikes the vehicle at a higher speed, to more closely mimic a crash with a midsize SUV.


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