And at that brief moment of impact - at the point of silence before the shower of glass - the cameras whirr and the Institute records the chaos of motion and contact, to be studied and graded. As pristine and scientific as the lead-up is, the post-test scene is equal in its technical destruction. The car is shattered and caved; the dummies have bounced off B-pillars and head restraints. The vehicle is leaking fluid on the cold white floor and there is an army of very smart people - scientists, engineers and the like - who are peering inside the cabin and furiously taking measurements and writing notes.
This is where a car makes its name. A "Good" rating generally means that a vehicle has passed the core tests of injury risk, intrusion and restraint measurement, as compared to similar vehicles. Acceptable and Poor ratings follow Good, and make up a grading criteria that is stark, to the point and lacking in marketing spin. Though the Insurance Institute does label "Best Picks" in most categories, most of the grading in their offset crash testing is specifically related to the three criteria: restraints, intrusion and injury risk. These three together help the Institute get a bead on what will happen when, far from white halls and Virginia hills, that sound of silence is pierced by the crashing sound of skidding rubber and sirens.