“Smash ‘em or crash ‘em: nothing really hurts them!”
In the early 1990s, Tyco unveiled Crash Dummies, an off-beat toy line patterned after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s series of PSAs that featured Vince and Larry, two talking crash test dummies who evangelized the importance of wearing seat belts while in a car through their zany antics.
Phase 1 of the series included several articulated action figures, vehicles, and playsets.
Just like in the car crash simulations depicted in the PSAs, Crash Dummy action figures could be blown apart into a mass of body parts using one or more impact buttons built into each toy.
Tyco’s initial release included seven figures that exploded in various ways thanks to strategically placed impact buttons.
The Vince and Larry action figures featured two such buttons; one caused their heads and arms to separate while the other forced their legs to fly off. In addition to separating limbs, Daryl and Pitstop (only available at Canada’s Canadian Tire) feature heads that spun around on impact. The appropriately named Spare Tire included eyes and ears that “bugged out” on command.
Tyco also integrated pets and children into the line. Skid the Kid was strapped into a stroller with an ejectable car seat, and Hubcat and Bumper were a cat and dog that gave new meaning to the term “nine lives.”
Regardless of how each figure was separated, children could make them whole again by snapping the various pieces back in place.
Tyco’s packaging for Crash Dummies featured vibrant red and yellow primary colours and yellow-and-black caution tape borders. The PSA slogans, “You could learn a lot from a dummy. Buckle your safety belt!” and “Buckle Up for Safety” were displayed on the front of each blister card.
CRASH INTO ME
Vince and Larry’s world also included four vehicles and two playsets. Like the Crash Dummies, each car would break apart upon impact, mimicking the mayhem and damage of an actual car crash. After being snapped back together, they were ready to crash again.
Tyco’s initial release of crashable vehicles included the Crash Car, Student Driver Crash Car, Crash Cycle, and the two- or three-person Crash Chopper. To promote a semblance of safety, the two cars had working airbags and seatbelts, while the two motorcycle variants included a set of crash helmets.
As a bonus, Tyco shipped additional Crash Dummy action figures with the Crash Car (Dash) and the Student Driver Crash Car (Axel).
When not creating their own traffic accidents, kids could put Vince and Larry in harm’s way with one of two playsets: the Crash & Bash Chair and the Crash Test Center. The self-adjustable chair came with a series of accessories that could be used to mimic a car crash. The Test Center provided a laboratory-like environment where children could conduct crash-based experiments, complete with a crash wall and impact zone.
After the Crash Dummies hit store shelves, the pseudo-realistic nature of the toys began to generate controversy, with some parenting groups questioning if the toys effectively promoted the importance of traffic safety for children. In response to the concerns, three major television networks in the US stopped running the PSAs for fear of cross-promoting the toy line and muddying the safety message.
Rather than pull the line from production, Tyco recognized it had a hit and doubled down. The entire line was retooled to remove all references to Vince and Larry and re-branded to the Incredible Crash Dummies. The generation 2 release included several new action figures, customized vehicles, and re-branded playsets.