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Honda engineer takes measurements ahead of a simulated crash test. Photo: Honda

In the ever-evolving world of car safety where billions are being spent on the most advanced lidar systems and deep learning algorithms, some companies are also focusing on how to improve occupant protection.

The big picture: Self-driving cars are a long way off, and newly available crash avoidance technologies like automatic emergency braking can’t prevent all collisions.

  • Until cars are smart enough to avoid crashing entirely, automakers will keep working on ways to reduce the potential for injuries when they inevitably do.
  • There are many aspects of safety under the microscope, including mulling how to compensate for gender differences in crash tests, developing better seats for women and redesigning the air bag.

Driving the news: Honda is introducing a next-generation airbag designed like a giant catcher's mitt. It not only cushions the front passenger's head but also reduces twisting neck injuries that often lead to brain trauma.

This week, I got a rare peek behind the curtain at Honda's safety labs on the campus of the company's huge research and development facility in Raymond, Ohio.

  • Besides the new airbag, Honda showed journalists its work on improving pedestrian safety and its use of crumple zones and other structural engineering tricks to divert crash energy away from the occupant cabin.
  • From behind plexiglass we watched as technicians crashed a bright yellow 2019 Honda Civic coupe into a 90-metric-ton block of concrete.
  • Seeing a crash test in person is pretty horrifying. (Watch how high-speed cameras capture the impact from multiple angles. You can actually see the energy flow through the vehicle.)
  • The car was destroyed, but the crash test dummy inside fared pretty well.
  • "Any time something deforms, breaks or bends, it's a beautiful thing," because it means energy was directed away from the cabin, said Brian Bautsch, manager of crash safety at Honda R&D Americas.

How it works: Before Honda crashes its vehicles into a concrete barrier, it spends a lot of time in a simulation lab.

Details: Honda's new passenger airbag is designed to reduce the potential for injuries that can occur in the real world, where crashes rarely happen directly head-on. Per Honda...

  • When a crash occurs at an angle, the lateral forces can cause an occupant’s head to rotate severely or slide off the airbag, increasing the chance of serious brain injury.
  • Instead, its new airbag has multiple chambers that sandwich and cradle the passenger's head, mitigating the potential for injury. (Watch video here.)
  • The airbag, which will debut in 2020, was co-developed with Autoliv, Honda's new airbag supplier.

Flashback: Honda recalled 12.9 million Honda and Acura vehicles in the U.S. to replace faulty Takata airbag inflators in recent years.

  • The Takata airbag recall hit Honda the hardest, but has affected virtually all major automakers.
  • With 56 million defective air bags being recalled, it was the biggest auto safety recall in U.S. history, according to the NHTSA. (Check your car's status.)

Go deeper

Obama says Powell exemplified what America "can and should be"

Then-President Obama speaks alongside former Secretary of State Colin Powell during a meeting in the Oval Office in 2010. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Former President Obama called Colin Powell an "exemplary soldier and an exemplary patriot" in a statement honoring the former general following his death from COVID-19 complications on Monday.

Why it matters: Powell, the first Black U.S. secretary of state, was known as a Republican but played a critical role in helping Obama get elected in 2008.

Justice Department asks Supreme Court to block Texas abortion ban

Abortion rights activists rally at the Texas State Capitol on Sept. 11 in Austin, Texas. Photo: Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images

The Justice Department on Monday asked the Supreme Court to temporarily block Texas' near-total ban on abortions while federal courts consider its constitutionality.

The big picture: The court last month allowed the ban to take effect, rejecting an emergency application by abortion-rights groups. The law bars the procedure after cardiac activity is detected, as early as six weeks into pregnancy.

Updated 4 hours ago - Health

This arthritis drug cost $198 in 2008. Now it's more than $10,000

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

In 2008, a box of 30 anti-inflammatory rectal suppositories that treats arthritis, called Indocin, had a price tag of $198. As of Oct. 1, the price of that same box was 52 times higher, totaling $10,350.

Why it matters: As federal lawmakers continue to waver on drug price reforms, Indocin is another example of how nothing prevents drug companies from hiking prices at will and selling them within a broken supply chain.