New belt and bag rules
One of the most contentious issues in auto safety has been that of new federal rules for airbag testing. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has had to walk the line between lobbying efforts from safety groups representing manufacturers, lawyers and insurance companies.
The sticking point has been in developing tests that measure safety for both belted and unbelted occupants. The problem is that in order to protect a large unbelted adult, the power of the resulting airbag places small women and children at risk. Litigators have sought a 30-mph test for unbelted occupants, while automakers lobbied for a lower 25-mph limit.
Last week NHTSA agreed that the 25-mph unbelted occupant test into a solid barrier would suffice. The test, by their reasoning, places a greater pressure on adults to wear seat belts, but reduces the threat to properly restrained children. According to NHTSA's notice, these new occupant restraints will be phased in beginning with 2002 models and be required by 2005.
In addition, the new federal airbag regulations will require crash tests using a whole new family of dummies. These more advanced, better-instrumented dummies reflect the difference in sizes of adults and children, and they address differences in physiology — there are even dummies for pregnant women. For some strange reason with our aging population there is not much attention being paid to the needs of older adults with more fragile bodies, but the new legislation is a welcome step forward for a good part of the driving (and riding) public.
While the national average usage of seat belts is on the rise, teen drivers continue to show poor safety awareness. When this is combined with the risky driving practices and lack of skill during the early driving years, it can turn tragic. A national survey reveals that 77 percent of teenagers speed excessively, 39 percent of young drivers never wear seat belts or wear them only occasionally, and 21 percent of teens drive after drinking.
With the approach of graduation and summer — the most dangerous period for young drivers — now is the time to act, says Stephen G. Wallace, SADD (Students Against Driving Drunk, a national education and prevention organization) national chairman and CEO. "More teens die in motor vehicle accidents in June, July and August than during other seasons," Wallace says.
SADD and Liberty Mutual, an insurance firm, have prepared a 15-minute video to help teens understand the importance of safe driving. Avoiding Collisions: How To Survive The Teenage Driving Years covers the major issues surrounding teen crashes. Families can obtain copies of the video from their local Liberty Mutual office or by calling 1-800-4-Liberty.
To racers, May means the Indy 500. And during the glory days of the Forties through the Sixties, Indy meant the wonderful Novi racecars. These supercharged V-8s captured the imagination of the fans through their distinctive sound and unrealized potential. Some of the most talented drivers and designers were involved with the cars, and although they never won, they lost in dramatic and spectacular ways. This year one of the few surviving cars will make exhibition runs during race week. Stay tuned to your TV, or better yet, arrange for a trip to the track.
Bob welcomes comments or questions at [email protected].