"Automakers looking at pedestrian safety"
- ...i kid you not. a headline on page 1D of today's Tallahassee
Democrat. article to follow, my comments are enclosed in
When I read this, let me just say that I came close to letting out a
scream followed by an hour-long rant in an extremely loud voice,
but I did not want my roommate to think that I had gone crazy.
A major U.S. daily recently ran a story about automakers who are
working to make their vehicles more "pedestrian-friendly."
They're doing this by making technical changes to cars to help
protect pedestrians in the event of an auto-pedestrian collision.
Never mind that there are relatively few pedestrian fatalities:
5,000 in the United States in 1999. Japan, which has less than
half as many people as the United States, had a reported 3,000
pedestrian deaths in the same year, and Western Europe had
7,000. To help put this into perspective, there are almost 50,000
driver and passenger fatalities in America every year.
_Relatively few, huh? That's more than the death toll from the
terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001._
Ideally, there would be fewer auto-related fatalities, but we all
know that modern life does have its trade-offs. Injuries resulting
from human error are inevitably one such trade-off, and when
they involve machinery that weighs several tons, the effects can
_Modern life, huh? I guess that's what makes urban transport
slower, more expensive, and more dangerous than it was 80
years ago, huh? Anyway, Americans I've spoken with who have
been to Europe consider European passenger trains some of
the most modern things they've ever seen._
Carmakers are reportedly looking into redesigning their vehicles'
front ends, and even adding external air bags that would be
deployed on contact. Such front-end changes could mean no
more heavy grilles, known as "cow bars," on cars. For dedicated
SUV off-roaders, that could be a real problem. They want
something to protect their hoods and engines in extreme
situations. Of course, most people with such fancy grilles never
go off-roading, and the bars serve only as a stylish
_"Dedicated SUV off-roaders?" Unless you live on 20 acres in
the middle of nowhere and drive a 1970s Land Rover, you
probably aren't really driving off-road. And flat dirt roads and
parking areas don't count; a Honda Civic can tackle a dirt road
like it's nothing. Anyway, my $250 Diamondback mountain bike
can do hills like no SUV can, and can come back undamaged.
Anyway, despite such suggested improvements, "cow bars" will
still be added, since they, for the most part, don't come with the
Automakers have generally done a pretty good job on safety
features - although they once had to be prodded by outspoken
consumer groups and eventually by the federal government.
They've added safety belts, soft dashes, air bags and a lot of
performance enhancements that make cars handle better (ABS,
anti-skid systems, brake interlocks tied to transmissions to
prevent inadvertent shifting, ignitions that won't function without
your foot on the brake, and more).
_Ralph Nader was one of the people who threw an early fit about
auto safety. While I support federal laws to make vehicles safer
in crashes and crash avoidance, I also think that lowering auto
use is the best way to reduce crash fatalities. Limit auto use to
small towns and rural areas and watch fatalities take a
nosedive. By the way, a lot of those features, like park-brake
interlock, are "idiot-proof" features, and assume an automatic
transmission--popular mainly in the USA._
How far should carmakers go in the name of safety? If safety is
our sole criteria, then no one should get in a car - or on a bicycle
for that matter - without a full set of hockey goalie pads, a football
helmet and facemask. Redesigning cars for pedestrian safety
seems to take responsibility out of the hands of drivers and
pedestrians and put it on automakers. Driver and pedestrian
education, and the enforcement of drunken-driving laws, would
be much better ways of reducing pedestrian fatalities.
_I support extensive driver education. I support tough DUI laws. I
support big honkin' fines and prison time if you cause a death
with a car. In Florida, I can get a driver license with no formal
training in driving and no driving test. Residents of Europe,
speak up now: aren't you blessed with tough mandatory driver
training classes and tough DUI laws? How many DUI fatalities
does Europe have?_
Speaking of safety, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is
planning side-impact crash testing that involves slamming a
4,200-pound barrier (simulating an SUV) into various smaller
cars. Surely the smaller cars will not do well. Smaller objects
generally get obliterated when smacked by larger ones. It's a
matter of physics.
What does the institute hope to prove? The intent is to
demonstrate the effectiveness of side-impact air bags,
particularly for the prevention of head injuries. Many consumers
apparently decide against optional side-impact air bags
because of the additional cost. The Insurance Institute for
Highway Safety thinks that once buyers know how effective
side-impact air bags can be, they'll take a deep breath and get
Women - or at least people of smaller stature- reportedly are
more likely to suffer head injuries in side crashes. This is
because they are generally lower in their seats and therefore
absorb more direct force in a side-impact crash. The new tests
will use 5-foot crash-test dummies. It's possible that cars could
be redesigned to absorb greater impacts. On most of today's car
bodies, the greatest strength is at the rocker panel level - about
shin high. A greater level of strength higher on a vehicle could
offset side-impact forces.
It will be interesting to see how the test results affect car
In conclusion, "pedestrian safety features" in cars are another
band-aid patch on a larger problem. Anyway, if such feature is
optional, noone will get it. The new Honda Civic and Accord
come with side air bags, and a dealer told me that practically
noone asks for them. Reducing car-pedestrian interaction, ie,
closing urban streets, is the only real way to do it.
Anyone willing to rant back?