When you're a real dummy, no one ever has to explain things to you like you're a six year old. You just get it — just like the unbelted crash-test dummy I saw buy the farm one warm Indiana evening.

To back up a bit, I sure wasn't going to miss the chance to witness a “Live Barrier Crash” as promised by the intriguing invitation from the Lifeguard Technologies Div. of IMMI that arrived on my desk a few weeks before the big event.

I figured if they were going to crash a truck into a wall then there'd have to be crash dummies on hand. OK, I'll admit that ever since those anthropomorphic creatures began popping up on TV in car safety PSAs and even commercial spots some years back, my warped sense of humor has warmly embraced them. I think it is the faces that remain expressionless even when faced with the jaws of death that make these characters so, er, hilarious.

But all silliness aside, let's not forget crash dummies are key players in the design of advanced automotive safety systems that benefit all of us whenever we are on or near a road. For that, these dummies deserve our applause and their makers deserve our full appreciation.

Back to the cornfield, which is where IMMI has built its state-of-the-art crash facility about an hour directly north of Indy. IMMI said its Center for Advanced Product Evaluation (CAPE) in Westfield, IN, was opened in '99 to conduct crash and environmental tests.

The firm noted CAPE houses the world's only 90-deg. rollover impact machine for commercial vehicles as well as the largest barrier facility of its kind for evaluating the crashworthiness of large commercial vehicles. At 1.9-million lb., the barrier block is the largest in the world, enabling IMMI to crash vehicles — even those weighing more than 80,000 lb. — at speeds up to 65 mph.

The night I was there the plan was to crash an old GMC (or Chevy — memory fails me on that point) medium-duty straight truck, purchased used expressly for this demo, into the massive concrete barrier at 30 mph. At the wheel was a dummy protected by both a LifeGuard Technologies lap-shoulder seat belt and 4Front driver's air bag. His equally silent partner in crime, though, was merely seated in the passenger seat sans belt or any other protective measure beyond clothing.

What a smash it was! Frankly, 30 mph looks an awful lot faster when you are watching vs. riding. All us witnesses had a view of the driver's side and that dummy was one cool character. He did not flinch as he barreled right into what could have been the door to the next world for a human driver or passenger who was not so adequately protected.

The dummy at the wheel remained in his seat while the passenger dummy violently struck the windshield before ending up crumpled over in the driver's lap. Not a pretty sight.

That sight and much more was captured by a bank of high-speed “imagers” that IMMI said grabs images at 1,000 frames per second, allowing engineers to study the motion of the truck, the motion of the test dummies and the air bag interaction in great detail.

According to IMMI, head injury criteria and recorded chest g's indicated the driver would have easily survived this crash — “the seatbelt retained him in his seat and the airbag inflated to protect his head from impact with the steering wheel.”

Indeed, the driver looked fine and unmarked to me post crash. But the passenger was a goner. It looked like his entire torso impacted the glass. IMMI said he “struck the windshield with such force that his head snapped back, and the back of his head contacted his upper back.” Not good.

More info on IMMI and CAPE can be found online at: lifeguardtechnologies.com.