Former IIHS-HLDI president recounts how his car protected him in high-speed crash

April 12, 2022

Adrian Lund spent much of his career getting automakers to build vehicles that would protect their occupants from serious injury in a crash. After a severe collision last summer, the retired president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute in all likelihood owes his life to the improvements he helped usher in.

Lund was on his way to Savannah, Georgia, early one Saturday in August. He had gone just 15 miles from his northern Virginia home when a car traveling the wrong way on the Interstate 95 express lanes collided with his. The frontal collision in the left lane sent Lund’s car spinning and rolling before coming to rest upside down on the right shoulder.

Lund estimates he was traveling 60 or 65 mph. The other car was going about 50.  

“This was a high-speed crash, one that probably 10 years ago, I wouldn’t be here to talk to you about it,” he said recently.

Sadly, the other driver, a 29-year-old woman, was thrown from her car during the crash and died. When the crash occurred, she was driving the wrong way after making a U-turn in the southbound lanes.

Lund, who retired from IIHS-HLDI in 2017, credits his car, a 2020 BMW 540i with saving his life. The model, a 2020 IIHS TOP SAFETY PICK, earned good ratings in all six crashworthiness tests, including the ones most applicable to Lund’s crash, the small overlap front and roof strength.

Lund remembers hanging upside down after the crash and noticing that he had room to move his legs. He was aware that he had just been in a frontal offset collision not all that different from the many tests he had watched in the crash hall at the IIHS Vehicle Research Center. In those tests, the structural intrusion is often worst around the legs, and the crash test dummy frequently registers high leg injury measures.

“The emergency teams began to show up shortly thereafter,” Lund said. “They kept asking me, ‘Are you OK?’ I said, ‘I think I'm OK. I don’t feel anything broken.’” Soon after, the rescuers cut the seat belt and pulled him out. Lund recalled feeling relief once he was out and able to see people’s faces.

Adrian's vehicle
Lund’s totaled car in the studio at the IIHS-HLDI Vehicle Research Center

Dominik Schuster, vice president of vehicle safety at BMW, said the crash showed the effectiveness of the vehicle’s safety concept and the importance of the extensive testing that vehicles undergo during development.

“In the end, it's all about one thing — providing vehicle occupants with the best possible protection in the event of an actual crash. IIHS has also been pursuing the same goal for decades. By setting requirements and performing tests derived from real-world crashes, they have been instrumental in driving vehicle safety,” Schuster added. “Ultimately, the crash Adrian Lund had with his BMW 540i is a powerful example of how the interaction between consumer protection organizations like IIHS and automakers saves lives on the road.”

The other car in the crash, a 2016 BMW 228i, also had good crashworthiness ratings for the five tests that IIHS was conducting in 2016. Because the driver wasn’t belted, she was ejected from the vehicle, virtually eliminating any chance of survival. Without knowing more about the condition of her car, it’s impossible to say whether she would have survived this particular crash even if she had been belted. After striking Lund’s car, her car immediately collided with the jersey barrier. In addition, because of its smaller size and lighter weight, the midsize 2 series was at a disadvantage in a crash with the 5 series, a large car.

Lund suffered from dizziness for a couple of weeks resulting from a blow to the head. He had serious bruises on his chest, left side and leg and both heels, along with cuts on his arm. He also had some neck discomfort for several months, which he believes was a result of being upside down after the crash and supporting some of his weight with his head.

“In a crash like this, you don’t come out uninjured,” Lund said. “Considering the crash I was in, that I had a frontal, followed by a rollover — yeah, I’m pretty lucky. The car did its job.”

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