CAR SAFETY / by kevin murray

In America, way too many people die or are seriously injured in automobile accidents each year (and all over the world for that matter!).  According to the NHTSA there were 32,367 vehicle deaths and 2,217,000 injuries in calendar year 2011 for the USA. While the trend has been going down due to car safety improvements, it seems to me that this can be improved upon even more dramatically without a lot of cost to the consumer or distress to the car manufacturer.  


When I think of automobile accidents I often reflect on the NASCAR car races shown on TV in which incredibly and in often harrowing circumstances the driver of a high speed car after running into a wall or into another car (or cars) often survives relatively unscathed.  Although, obviously, that isn't true in every case, it is true in a remarkably high amount of them and consequently this is something well worth looking into and emulating. 


This leads to the premise that if race car drivers can survive in high speed crashes why can’t we, the common people, do the same.  While we most certainly won't be comparing apples to apples, it would seem that two significant factors could immediately help improve our fatality and injury statistics. 


The first item to look at is our seatbelt design which is known as a 3-point since it goes across your lap and diagonally across your chest.  But check this out, this design was initiated by Volvo back in 1959!  While we can be grateful for this innovation, time demands an improvement.  Fortunately, there are a few experimental seatbelts in the works, such as the "criss-cross" or  the "3x2 safety belt" but essentially you want to develop something that will restrain the driver's body from moving forward at a rapid pace during a car crash--and that improves upon our current 3-poin seatbelt. For instance, in NASCAR they use a five-point safety harness, something similar to that, modified as necessary for our use, makes a lot of sense to me.  The physics behind this improved seatbelt design should be studied, experimented with, and then implemented as either standard equipment, optional, or as a consumer add-on.


The second idea to improve vehicle safety is the use of a helmet.  What's this you say?  Helmets for a car!  You have got to be kidding, but no I am not.  It is best to remember that out of all your body parts your brain is the most irreplaceable.  Head injuries most definitely can be fatal, and if not fatal, quite debilitating.  Again, logic would dictate that a helmet could be designed for vehicle use that would protect the driver and at the same time not obstruct their hearing or vision. 


While I am not an advocate of making either of these changes mandatory, I do believe that these options should be readily available.  A typical 3-point seatbelt appears to cost the manufacturer $12 (Anzellotti Sperling Pazol & Small, LLC).  Whereas, a good helmet perhaps ranges from $40-75 in price.  These costs aren't prohibitive and the upside in vehicle safety makes it well worth the while to take a serious and studied look at.