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Smithsonian Dedicates Upcoming Website and Exhibit to Auto Safety

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On: Fri, Jul 16, 2010 at 12:07PM | By: Chris Weiss


Smithsonian Dedicates Upcoming Website and Exhibit to Auto Safety

During a time when interest in auto safety is at its peak, thanks largely to Toyota's unprecedented string of highly publicized safety issues, the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is putting together a website and exhibit on auto safety. 10 individuals and companies, including GM and AAA, made a significant donation of auto safety equipment and icons ranging from historical seat belts to crash test dummies. Cars and protecting your vital organs—what's not to like?

Highlights of the donations made to the museum yesterday include the costumes used by Vince and Larry—the crash test dummies featured in the "You Could Learn a Lot From a Dummy" series of ads back in the 1980s and 90s—as well as other crash test dummies and parts. The actors who played Vince and Larry, Tony Reitano and Whitney Rydbeck, even showed up for Wednesday's event. Also on hand were the campaign's co-creator, Jim Ferguson, and its director Bill Dear. The quartet spoke candidly about filming the commercials and gave a little insight about the impact the campaign had on them and the greater public. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seat belt usage rose 14 percent points as a result of the campaign and an estimated 85,000 lives were spared.

While the Vince and Larry memorabilia created the biggest buzz, donations included a variety of historically significant equipment like a 1967 Chevy steering wheel column that was the world's first collapsible model, the first three-point seat belt from Volvo, 1930s AAA driving manuals, and ignition-integrated breath analyzers from Guardian Interlock.

The Smithsonian will feature the newly donated items on a website dedicated to auto safety from the 1920s through today, and later will include them in an exhibit.

Roger White, a curator at the museum said of the collection, "This is about America’s relationship with its cars; we all know it’s a love affair. But automobiles had to change to make them truly useful and acceptable.”

Ordinarily, a museum exhibit on auto safety might sound about as interesting as stitching up the holes in your sock collection, but given the current climate of the industry, it actually could prove quite informative and intriguing to take a look at the evolution of auto safety values, equipment, and marketing over the course of the greater development of the automobile. Perhaps one day there'll be a floor mat or sticking accelerator pedal a little farther down the exhibit.

If you don't remember Vince and Larry, their message still holds true today:




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