Ramblings for May 8, 2000

May 8, 2000

Smart belts and airbags

 With airbags coming under attack from concerned drivers and the Feds alike, the BFGoodrich Company has developed what it thinks is a good compromise: the SmartBelt system, which it says addresses some of the major shortcomings of both belts and airbags.

One of the problems with normal belts is that they are narrow enough to cause injuries and often stretch enough to allow the occupant to strike parts of the car interior. During a serious crash, SmartBelt rapidly inflates a bladder that runs the length of the belt from the buckle to the upper mounting point. The inflatable belts can spread out the stress and reduce the stretching. It also appears that they may also help prevent an occupant’s head from moving outward in the case of a side impact, performing some of the functions of a side head bag.

The systems are expected to be available within two years for backseat passengers who seldom are protected by airbags. For more information on SmartBelt, visit www.bfgsmartbelt.com.

DRLs day in the sun

One of the most unpopular safety innovations has been the daylight running lights (DRLs), mainly since they tend to make the lighted car more obvious. But you say, isn’t that the purpose? But with most of the traffic moving above the speed limit, often the car that is stopped by the police is the one that catches their eye.

General Motors is the leading proponent of DRLs in this country, and they are pleased by the results of an independent study concluding that there is more than a five-percent reduction in daytime, multi-vehicle, non-rear-end collisions since GM began equipping vehicles with daytime running lamps. The Exponent Failure Analysis Associates study compared collision rates of GM, Volvo, Saab and Volkswagen vehicles before and after the introduction of DRLs. They project that the feature has prevented 17,000 accidents.

Making vehicles more conspicuous is the greatest safety benefit that GM has been able to quantify. DRLs are especially helpful in mist and haze, and during the dawn and dusk hours. The popularity of low visibility green, gray and silver paint schemes and the reduction of chrome also has made cars harder to see. Scientific studies also demonstrate that oncoming drivers suffer no disabling glare at the levels of light intensity in these vehicles.

Runaway juries still out

The car companies can’t win in court cases with juries voting verdicts more on emotion and sympathy rather than legal facts. Ford has been hit with a $20 million verdict after a child in a front-facing child seat placed in the front seat was paralyzed in a crash. This of course was despite the fact that parents had been warned not to place their children at risk in that position and that the potent bags had been mandated by the government to protect adults who were not wearing belts.


Bob welcomes comments or questions at bstorck@sprynet.com.

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