Those cute crash test dummies make for better commercials, but automakers have long relied on a less-publicized way of ensuring safety: cadavers. Dummies and computer modeling have come a long way, but actual bodies provide more accurate results about, say, damage to internal organs in an accident, explains Justin Hyde at Jalopnik. "Every part of a car touching on safety—from steering columns and laminated windshields to side-impact air bags—drew from tests with cadavers to ensure they work," he writes.
The automakers generally don't conduct the tests themselves but rely on universities, which have the proper legal framework set up to handle them. Ford's inflatable rear seat belts in the new Explorer, for instance, required cadaver testing. “Even though we have very good math modeling of dummies, human modeling hasn’t reached that state yet," says a former safety researcher at the company.