Safe Under Any Conditions?

Safe Under Any Conditions?
Offering young drivers a false sense of security

By Paul F. Stifflemire, Jr.

Today, the U.S. has one of the world's lowest highway death rates. There were only 1.51 deaths in the U.S. per 100 million vehicle miles traveled last year [2002], down from 2.3 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 1988.
     ---from the Wall Street Journal, November 20, 2003

There you have it. Traffic fatalities are down, not in overall numbers of course; that would be impossible in a nation where, between 1994 and 2002 the number of drivers grew by 15.9 million, vehicles increased by 28.7 million and the number of miles driven was 472 billion greater. Thats billion, with a b.

The media, however, continue to focus on the trees, rather than the forest, often arguing against safety, rather than for it. Rather than give credit where it is dueindividuals are behaving more responsiblythe media continue to hype technology. This example comes from the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. And if you think about it for a moment, you will understand that the prescription being offered will likely increase, rather than reduce fatalities:

From: Technology is available to reduce SUV rollovers, by Joey Ledford

Many sport utility vehicle owners cite safety as a key factor in their purchase decisions, unaware that many models are prone to roll over during aggressive maneuvers. According to federal highway safety officials, more than 60 percent of all deaths in SUV crashes occurred in rollovers in 2002, compared with 24 percent of passenger car deaths. Midsize SUVs are nine times more likely to cause rollover fatalities than other vehicles.

In all, rollovers resulted in 10,666 deaths last year, about one-fourth of all U.S. highway fatalities. Technology exists to prevent many of those rollovers, and even though it is being widely employed on German and Japanese vehicles, American automakers have been slow to embrace it. It's frankly a cost issue in the U.S., said Jim Gill, a spokesman for Continental Automotive Systems, a leading manufacturer of electronic stability control technology.

I test drove a Volvo XC 90 equipped with the Continental Electronic Stability Control. Despite pushing it hard on several revolutions around a wet circular skid pad, I never lost control. I could tell the system had activated by the sound it made --- a rather unpleasant roar similar to that made by fully engaged antilock brakes.

Battling to cut costs, Detroit is holding back, and federal safety officials are doing likewise, promising studies and regulations within three years. Consumers don't have to wait, however, and should demand this lifesaving option be included on their next vehicle.

While that sounds good, a look at the facts behind the statistics indicates that the typical driver involved in an SUV rollover is young, drivingas Ledford saidaggressively, and engaged in a maneuver, much like he was, pushing it hard...around a wet circular skid pad, that causes the vehicle to roll. Adding a safety feature that convinces young, inexperienced drivers (and their parents) that an SUV is safe under any conditions is precisely the prescription for increased, rather than reduced fatalities.

It is impossible to make any car perfectly safe, and it is irresponsible to pretend otherwise.