If “Safety” Really Mattered

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In several objective ways, new cars are less “safe” than cars built decades ago.

A strong statement. One that probably seems ridiculous, too, given all the “safety” features new cars have that old cars did not – and also given the fact that new cars must pass a battery of crash tests before they may legally be sold to the public.

HMS Barham about to roll after being torpedo’d

But “safety” is a slippery thing.

An analogy may help get the point across.

Battleships were considered virtually invulnerable; they had armor belts more than a foot thick in some cases. Then came naval aviation. And the air-dropped torpedo. One or two of these – a few thousand bucks each, maybe – could slide under a battleship’s armor belt (which generally did not extend below the waterline) and make short work of a billion-dollar capital ship.

How “safe” is the new car you can’t see very well out of – because of over-tall headrests and up-high beltlines and girder-thick roof support pillars – vs. the pre-“safe” car that gave you an excellent view of what was coming at you from the side and behind?

Do anti-lock brakes encourage some drivers to tailgate? Does traction control encourage some people to drive too fast on slick roads? Have higher grip thresholds given people a false sense of security? Eighty MPH in a modern car doesn’t feel as fast as 60 did in the pre-“safety” era.

The physics haven’t changed, just the perception.

The new car is probably (though not necessarily) more crashworthy. But which is more likely to be involved in a crash?     

Much of government-mandated “safety” is reactive – it is about making cars “safer” to crash. More survivable when you wreck. Air bags fall into this category.

It would probably be safer to avoid the crash.

That used to be the emphasis. It’s not any more. Less and less is expected of the driver. More and more is demanded of the car. Even to the extent of simple competences such as parallel parking, which – we give up – is now in many cars handled automatically by a computer, which takes over and steers the car into its slot. The “driver” merely pushes a button.

One could make a pretty solid case that a person not able to parallel park a car on their own is probably not a “safe” driver.

The car is expected to have skills and be aware. The driver not so much.

“Safety” is also incoherent.

For example, on the one hand, the government makes a fuss about distracted driving and yet not a peep about new cars with so many distracting electronic gadgets it’s a miracle anyone makes it a week without at least a fender-bender. Pecking at a smartphone keyboard is an actionable offense – but it’s ok to fiddle with the car’s built-in touchscreen “infotainment” system. Which – in many new cars – has Internet access and does pretty much everything (and sometimes, more than) a smartphone does.

It is probably not “safe” to drive with someone ringing a bell or flashing a light in your face. Yet most new cars have “safety” systems that do exactly that, in some cases incessantly and for no good reason. The steering wheel vibrates like Titanic’s tiller as the doomed ship scraped past the iceberg every time a tire grazes a painted line in the road (Lane Departure Warning). A frantic red light flashes on the dashboard – and the brakes suddenly come on, jerking you forward without warning – because another car 20 yards ahead is slowing down or there is a cyclist off to the right (Collision Avoidance Mitigation/Automated Braking).

The presumption being you are too addled to anticipate, too slow-witted and low-skilled to react properly and in time.

Maybe go back to pecking at the smartphone – or fiddling with the LCD touchscreen. Why not?

People think their vehicle is “safe” to drive because on a given day, it was inspected by an Official Safety Inspector. And probably it was. But what about three months from now? By then, the brake pads (or tires) that were still ok – “safe” as defined by the government – have worn to the point of no longer being very safe at all. But the sticker on the window says the car is “safe” to drive!

And so many drivers assume it is.

Technically, the law requires them to keep up with the condition of their vehicle; to note whether the tires are going bald and the brake pads getting close to needing to be replaced. But because the car has a valid inspection sticker, many people don’t bother until some event confronts them with the reality that, in fact, the tires have gone bald or the brake pads are worn out.

In the pre-inspection era, people were motivated to keep track of the condition of their vehicles. Today, that responsibility is passed off onto an inspector.

Which era was “safer”?

Old people with arthritic limbs, slow reaction times and poor vision are by definition impaired relative to younger people not yet afflicted with those woes of the aging process. Yet that form of impairment isn’t considered the “safety” hazard that having even trace amounts of alcohol in one’s system is.

There are no Senile Citizen checkpoints. And if a glaucomic geriatric blows a red light and kills someone, the legal consequences will – usually – be far less severe than those faced by a driver who didn’t blow a red light or into anyone but did blow a BAC above the percentage that arbitrarily defines “drunk” driving.

Which form of impairment constitutes the greater “safety” threat?

In many states, there are laws against dark-tinted windows. Ostensibly because it is not “safe.” Likewise mandatory buckle-up laws. And yet, government workers – cops – are exempted from these laws. Is it “safe” for them to drive cars with dark tinted windows and not buckled up? If so, how so?

And if not, why are we hassled for doing the same?

“Safety” is in the eye of the beholder – and the pen of the regulator.

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  1. Safety?

    Beyond dual circuit brakes (disc!), layered/tempered glass, crumple zones (especially in the hood) and radial tires, there isn’t much area for improvement left – except for 4-point harness.

    No airbags in Indy cars, or crop dusters either.

    • Hi itor,

      I consider skilled, attentive driving to be the greatest “safety” factor … and so am baffled that it’s actively discouraged.

      • my niece just got her drivers license and I was reminded how much of a joke that whole process is. The state sure makes a huge deal out of it, but at the end it is a joke. She barely has to operate a vehicle and passes. You would think if safety and preventing accidents was really the goal there would be free aggressive driving courses offered to help teach people how to handle a car. Especially now when most places you go there roads are too crowded to have any “fun”. It is hard to practice drifting a car in snow when there is traffic everywhere. how else do you learn to gain control when it slides? I guess you just plow into the guy in the other lane and let the air bag save you.

        • Hi Todd,

          When I was growing up in Michigan, I’d hit empty church parking lots after a good snowfall. I’d practice donuts and controlled slides. Or course, I did this for fun but it did really teach me how to drive in the snow and saved me from a few accidents when people would lose control in front of me. Anyway, one morning I was having a particularly good time when a cop pulled into the lot. He was pissed and asked “what the hell do you think you’re doing?” I looked at him and said, with a straight face, “practicing my winter accident avoidance techniques, sir”. He tried to remain angry, but then began to laugh, told me that was the best excuse he’d ever heard and let me go.


  2. On a related note, in Oklahoma, one state legislator recently introduced a bill to ban cellphone use while in a school or work zone. He got his misguided inspiration after the fact, when a constituent schoolteacher was killed by someone driving in a school zone while using a cellphone.

    Why stop there?

    Apparently, he didn’t think stopping there was a good enough idea. His official statement to the press after the bill passed out of committee was, “We have to keep ahead of technology,” which translates to: We need to write laws that prevent people from taking advantage of technology improvements. He is now wanting to propose that the use of cellphones by the driver should be completely outlawed. But apparently, none of his legislator buddies would tolerate that abuse.

    Where does the insanity stop? Where will his laws be when driver-less cars are on the streets? Will he try to take the state back to the Neanderthal era and say that cars with computers are illegal?

    Does this buffoon think that just writing laws is going to prevent deaths on the road?

    Accidents happen, no matter what the intent of the legislator or restrictor (my preferred term for regulator) is.

    For my part, I look at technology as a way of dismantling and keeping ahead of bad legislation. I would feel much safer where the legislator and restrictor would not be allowed to implement such stupidity except upon themselves.

    • Is it that these poliTITians never learn, or is it that they just don’t care? They keep making all of tbhese preventative laws, and for what? Does crime decrease? Are we safer? (not that those things would even justify such laws); is life better? No. It just gets worse and worse, and crime and accidents and dysfunction keep right on marching forward, and it seems that all of these laws only ever negatively affect the innocent, and cost them money; and it seems that people are just more and more relieved of personal responsibility when they do act negligently or maliciously, but thanks to all of these laws, the innocent who have harmed no one are treated the same way as the negligent or malicious, just for having “broken the law” even though they’ve caused no damage.

      The manufacture of such laws is the real crime.

      So, I’d like to ask Mr. OK. State Legislator or other poliTITian, why it is, that I, a high-school drop-out can be cognizant of such facts, but YOU, supposedly being highly-edumacated and being paid a generous salary at the expense of your constituents, are clueless, and just keep on burdening the public as well as the judicial system with such ridiculous, ineffective and burdensome laws>? (Oh, to make more money for the state, and to further control our lives?)

      • N, you know the answer. They aren’t clueless, and they aren’t stupid (at least not in their short term). What they are is evil and they believe in their own superiority and fitness to be slavemasters.

        In the long term there is always revolt and revolution. But they always figure by cracking down harder and harder with more micromanagement, more violent enforcement, more spies, that they can put that off forever. And every time in the history of man they are shocked when they finally get their head handed to them. “The more you tighten your grip, the more will slip through your fingers”

  3. Eric, your points are valid but I’d still pick a modern car, with all its visibility problems, to one from the 50’s or 60’s, when I was growing up. Those cars (the American ones, anyway) were absolutely HORRIBLE cornering. That was partly due to the bias-ply tires of the day (I remember my dad and I taking a test drive in an early ’60’s Dodge Dart equipped with radial-ply tires and being amazed at how much better it handled than other cars he had driven), but also due to the mush-mallow suspensions everybody supposedly wanted back then. And of course, sub-par brakes didn’t help.

    I’ve never been tempted to tailgate: it’s rude and dangerous for both vehicles. The arrival of anti-lock brakes did nothing to change my habits, but apparently it’s true that some people drive more aggressively when they have anti-lock brakes. Still, I think we need to be very careful of starting down the road “more safety features are actually bad because they tempt people to be more careless.” Let the idiots fall into that trap all they like; the rest of us can avoid it easily enough.

    • Hi JdL,

      From what I see out there, people (most people) under-drive today’s cars to such a degree that they’d be just fine in a car from the ’60s or ’70s!

      Speed limits are the same on secondary roads and highways as they were 40 or 50 years ago. Most people I see out there do not drive much faster, especially on secondary roads.

      Put a curve before the typical American driver/Clover and he will slow to below the under-posted speed limit. The 17, 18 and 19 inch wheels, the much greater lateral grip… all wasted.

      I maintain that probably two-thirds of the people out there need no more car than a circa mid-1980s K-Car, in terms of its power/acceleration/cornering capabilities.

      • Fair enough. How about YOU, though? I know you’ve got some older classic cars, but would you rather take one zipping along a mountain road (like the Blue Ridge Parkway, without the 45 mph limit) than a sporty (but not exceptional) car of today?

    • You’d be amazed at what installing heavy-duty springs and shocks will do for handling, along with radial tires, on older vehicles. By the 1970s front disc brakes were very common and they can be retrofitted to older models. (Not antilock, but still much more effective than drums.) Especially if you can do the labor yourself you can make some real improvements without breaking the bank.

      Heck, if you have the $$$ you can go the full route and install a modern suspension system with rack-and-pinion steering as part of a restomod, but you’re getting into some serious bucks there.

      • Hi Jason,

        And some of the ’70s cars handled very well, even by modern standards. The mid-late 1970s Firebird had an excellent basic design and the Trans-Am with the WS6 handling package (15×8 wheels and four wheel disc brakes in ’79) was exceptional. Put modern performance tires on one of these and you’d be surprised what it is capable of.

        Minor mods – poly subframe/suspension biscuits and subframe connectors – make them formidable.

        And, they’re still pretty simple in basic layout: Leaf springs/solid axle in the rear. Stamped steel a-arms and coil springs/shocks up front.

        Trust me: These cars have much higher limits than most non-professional drivers have skills!

        • Dear Jason, Eric,

          So true. Look at how long Ford delayed getting rid of the live axle on the Mustang. They thought about going IRS again and again, and decided again and again, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

          It’s amazing how well “obsolete technology” works a lot of the time.

        • eric, those cars could handle very well. I drove many of them and the manual transmission cars could be pushed pretty far with their extra gear to keep in the high revs. A friend had a tunnel ram 400 that was pretty salty and seems like some WS 6 bushings on the front. I was driving it for the second time and had been gradually pushing it harder and harder. This was back in the late 70’s when radials were the preferred tire and this car got some good grip. A couple friends had the 455 TA’s and they handled well too although limited by auto’s. But to make a point of what people’s driving skills are, some auto journalists back then actually liked the auto and said with enough power they were better than a manual…..wrong. Same power, manual transmission and you could work your way around curves on the limit of traction but try shifting to 2nd on an auto at 100 mph and you’d be out of luck and out of luck if you didn’t have a lower gear to keep the revs up high in the best part of the power band. I taught a lot of people how to heel and toe but you can’t make that smooth transition by left foot braking with an auto. In some cases such as off-road racing where it was much easier to hang the rear out and modulated it with pure power auto’s may have worked ok but I’d still take a manual.

        • And one more thing, Eric: The old cars, even without all the performance goodies, just plain felt better! One of my first cars was a $200 6-cylinder Camaro. Probably the sweetest-driving vehicle I’ve ever owned. It was “real”. You could feel that the end of the steering column was connected to something, and that the tires were turning. Ditto the accelerator cable. You could feel everything that that car was doing, and get an instant response from any input on your part, and instant feedback. Not gonna win any races or take corners at 60MPH, but it was still fun to drive because you actually got to experience driving, as opposed to being isolated from it. I’ve never been a fan of Camaros, and had only bought the car because it was cheap and i was young and broke….but now i wish I still had that Camaro- 250ci 6 cyl. and all….

          • When I was a kid everything was to be raced, regardless of what it was. A 6 cylinder Camaro was much faster than my 6 cylinder pickup and more fun in another way. My best friend and I raced pickups as often as we could. Maybe those 6’s would burn the tires but rolling out of 45 mph curves at 80 and spinning the inside tire when it lifted was great fun. We raced tractors and anything else that could be pitted against something similar. I was speaking to him a couple days ago and he reminisced about the day I was driving his dad’s IH crewcab pickup, a ’59 model, and tried to drift it around and S curve. It just plowed off into the barditch where we mowed down enough Johnson grass to feed the cows for a couple days, then back up on the road and pushed off into the other barditch…..and I never lifted. All sorts of shit was flying over the windshield and we loved it. Once I stopped you could never tell it had done anything out of the ordinary. Back in those days “run what you brung” took on any meaning. Being a part of the machine was part of the thrill. You might feel the front end tires wobbling on old wore out pickups but you could SEE them wobbling on old wore out tractors. Best thrill ever I wasn’t part of except as an observer. A friend was pulling a trailer house down 84 right outside Post, Tx. When he left the caprock and started down 3 miles of steep grade he kicked the 4020 tractor out of gear. He probably wouldn’t have if he’d known what would happen. As it was he was eating wind and bugs and trying to control the tractor and trailerhouse while passing traffic like it was tied down. If he’d have hit the brakes he’d have been dead so he just rode it out. 60=70 mph on a tractor that topped out normally at 12 mph was a real terrifying experience without having a trailer house on behind. At least Post was wet and you could get a cold beer in town. Back then there were no laws about driving a tractor on the road and drinking beer. We all needed one after that.

            While big city kids thought we were hicks they had no idea of the fun they were missing growing up in the sticks. You could race cows if you could stay on one or goats who tended to try to exact revenge after they shed you.

            We didn’t even have “illegal” in our vocabulary. Make sure you kept some fireworks from every holiday. You were sure to use them doing something. Put a long fuse on a bottle rocket and stuff it into the rolled side of the bed on a pickup giving you the perfect launch point at other vehicles. Be careful though cause some offended person might drive by and throw a roll of blackcat firecrackers in the pickup with you.

            The car your dad drove everyday was often pitted against the car another guy’s dad drove everyday at the Sat. night drags on the farm road. What a thrill going through “the lights” at 79 mph barely ahead of the other car. It was a fair race with a 283 and a 289. That’s probably one reason I was banned to the pickup. Of course that didn’t keep my sisters from abusing hell out of it.

            • Man, 8! Ya need to write a book and call it “When We Were Free”.

              I didn’t see it, but thanks to you, now the mental pitcher[sic] of a Deere flying down the road with a mobike-home in tow is burned into my mind! LOL!

              • Nunzio, that’s a great idea, a great title. No doubt the title would garner criticism before it was read but I think you could make a good case for it if you pitted current laws and they way they’re enforced to what used to be the norm.

                If that book sold well enough, a tell-all, thinly disguised as fiction might be in order.

                Then write another piece of fiction based on the rumor mill of your detractors and compatriots. That could easily get you shot if you remained accessible.

                Either way, it might be a good way to get more people on board with the ZAP and the libertarian mindset.

            • hi 8, I think I can relate a bit to your friend on the tractor.
              One of the all terrain drills I used to operate (pic) http://www.discountdrill.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/ORV-003.jpg Brake by the transfer case on the rear driveshaft, hydraulic steering – no mechanical linkage.
              On a site in Missouri and had to take it down a steep tree covered hill after a rain (wet grass) and didn’t notice it wasn’t in 4wd. First time I hit the brakes it just locks the rear wheels and is still picking up speed. Prolly ended up hitting 25-30 mph trying to dodge trees etc with the rig bouncing all over the place made worse any time I tried to brake (with some oversteer as a bonus)
              I was ready for a beer after that too…

              • dbb, time to remove the wedgie at the bottom on that bad boy. I can see how you’d be glad you had that roll of tp……seriously.

                Times like that you’re glad you had no prior knowledge of what you were about to do.

  4. Some of the safest ever cars on the road, as far as craxh survival, are the Merceded, BMW, Volvo of the late 1960’s and up through about the 90’s. Anyone else remember the old Volvo advert, usually on the back cover of National Georgraphic? A stack of 1067 or so Volvo 144 sedans, each one pointing opposite direction of the one below it. I think there were nine in the stack. Maybe only seven. ALL the doors on al of them still opened.
    Was Boneyard picking back in the late 1960’s in rural San Diego County…. the yardman was taking me down into the back forty to get some bit I needed from some old wreck…. we passed by a light blue Volvo 144, nearly new (they started that model in ’67 so it had to be less than two years old). It appeared to have rolled side over about seven times, and endover another three… judging from the road rash on the top and both sides the coachwork. Body metal was deformed and not one panel was anywhere near untouched. I commented as we passed by that one, something to the effect that I thought a couple of people didn’t make it that night. He said no, HE was the tow operator that attended that scene. HE was shocked to find all four occupants were unhurt., alert, walking about, no distress. The driver told him they (four sailors) had closed down a roadhouse that night, staying till Last Call, got into the car, fastened their belts, and began the drive back to the Base. At about 85 mph he driver fell asleep, hit the wide shallow centre median, the car rolled side to side about five times, and end over end probably three times, maybe more. i came to rest on the wheels, all four unbuckled, opened their own door, and got out.

    Had theyb been in a Chevy they’d have been dead. Or nearly so.

  5. I remember a TV ad for MG in the 70’s. It was touting their new 5 mph bumper.

    The stationary camera was looking directly at the profile of a wall. The voice over talked about the new safer bumpers that could withstand a 5mph crash into a wall. Here comes an MGB, at 5mph, rolling toward the wall…closer…closer…it’s gonna HIT IT!!!

    No, the B glides behind the wall, depth perception being what it is, unscathed. The voice says, “In Britain, we try to avoid the walls.”

    I wish I could find that video. I’m sure the Clovers of the day had a fit.

  6. In my humble opinion…one of the most dangerous items on cars today is “traction control”, especially if it cannot be totally disabled easily by the driver. There are instances when traction control prevents a vehicle from safely traversing a slightly slippery area where a little more “throttle” could see the vehicle safely through…a slightly slippery spot on a grade is enough for traction control to (erroneously) limit engine speed, putting the vehicle occupants at risk of much greater harm. There have been instances of vehicles forced to “slide backwards” on a grade because “traction control” kicks in…
    There should be a one-button approach to disable traction control on all vehicles equipped with such…
    Wait till autonomous vehicles hit the roads…

  7. Safety is a value judgment on a risk scale, and like all value judgments, is purely subjective. Safety is also an emergent quality completely dependent on the particular situation, which can rarely be replicated. Finally, any system that integrates human decision making and actions/reactions is completely unquantifiable before the fact (there are no constants in human action).

  8. I’m 62 years old.

    My first cars from the 1960s had drum brakes. They took a while and considerable distance to stop.

    There were no air bags, no massive bumpers.

    We learned to drive carefully because we realized what the consequences would be.

    I learned not to tailgate, to signal my intentions before I change lanes.

    My current rides are a 96 Nissan Maxima and a 92 Nissan pickup. The pickup is about as dangerous as a 1960s car.

    My younger friends drive much more aggressivly than I ever did. They tell me that I drive like an old man. I guess that 70 mph is not fast enough for them. But it gets the job done with reasonable safety. I do not act like a clover.

    • Hi John,

      My thesis has long been: If you expect less of the driver, you will get less-able drivers. And, voila!

      Terrible driving abounds. More so than in the past, based on my own experience.

      I expect this to get worse…

      • Hey guys, for some reason it was common for girls to not get much in driving lessons 60 years ago or at least girls who had no work to do. But, for the most part, boys and some girls had to learn such as double shifting, pumping the brakes on slick roads, using dirt instead of pavement in certain circumstances and using tire chains. Back in my day there were only a handful of 4WD pickups in the county if that. If we got on a slick muddy road everybody but the driver got in the back and if it was a pickup, jumped up and down which would give you a spurt of traction but it could get you far enough to not end up stuck in the middle of nowhere. If somebody saw your tracks, they’d avoid the road if the mud was deep preferring to wait a day or two. This wasn’t always possible if you needed to feed cattle or some such so you went in the mud and used chains if you had them. My BIL’s company pickup back then didn’t have mudgrips so I jumped up and down for miles one day to get us out of a bad situation.

        The next generation had 4WD’s and nobody would have even known to get in the bed and jump up and down. How many carloads of kids now would know to get all the weight in the back? There is a big difference considering I have been driving alone since I was 12, a necessity. What a relief to turn 14 and get a license…..and then I started driving trucks for my uncles. I didn’t get my commercial license till I was 19 and worked for the state. Funny, they said TPTB sent down an edict everybody had to have commercial licenses.

      • Expectations has been my theory as well. They make driving easier and drivers get worse. They pass more laws to pass responsibility and drivers get worse. I call it “building a better idiot”.

    • There is a line from the movie “Fletch Lives” that is funny but yet true about brakes in old cars. Chevy Chase’s character is asking Cleavon Little’s character about the plantations late ’60 caddy. Little’s character says something along the line, it runs good, but the brakes are bad, so if you want to stop, you have to plan ahead.

  9. The a-pillars on some of these vehicles are so thick that pedestrians might consider carrying 6 foot flags…so that drivers can see them. Then when the pedestrians cross the street they can extend the flag out parallel to the ground, like a military honor guard. That should make them plenty visible from behind those massive a-pillars…maybe.

    • Fack, I just rented a car a couple weeks ago. A Chrysler 200 it turned out to be. I resisted so they said they had one SUV left and it would cost more. I looked in the lot and saw some small thing with Jeep on it. I sighed and took the 200. A couple hundred miles later I’m still having trouble remembering the big lag time between hitting the gas and actual acceleration. You’d think I’d remember from driving all those company Dodge trucks but I didn’t. After about 500 miles I began to consciously think about the lag and adjusted my driving thusly.

      The car had an overhead console with solid plastic crap that went all the way to the rearview mirror which was huge….thick. I like my seat up high to get the weight onto my thighs and not my butt so at first I had that feeling of being in a closet with a peephole. Side mirrors, weirdly shaped and way too small, no vision to the back side or back glass, so much for looking. I had the windshield between the a pillar and the rearview mirror and that was just about it.

      A friend called to see how things were going. I told him I shoulda rented a Peterbilt cause I was nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs and that’s putting a good look to it. Then I got to do the pass and then be passed by the car I’d just passed for the next 500 miles. I never didn’t use my cruise and it occasionally dropped one mph on steep hills. I have no idea why people who obviously don’t have cruise or it doesn’t work feel the need to do this crap. One woman in a Jetta passed me 3 times and my foot never touched the go pedal. Another person in a GMC Suburban passed me probably half a dozen times on I 10 and not just eased around me but blasted and then I’d come up on him screwin the pooch and go around. They pulled off at an exit maybe 10 miles before I did.

      I knew the house would be empty but I didn’t want to face the people’s dogs who’d go bananas and I’d be stepping on them, falling over them, probably cleaning up what they left on the floor(both females) so I sat in the car and listened to a great radio station in Kerrville playing great old country and drank Shiner Black and watched the deer run cats off their food. Not a bad car to sit in and drink but taking videos out of it sucked more than driving it. So when I pull up to visit eric, I’ll be driving one of those rumbling things he hates and he won’t have to worry about a bed, I’ll have it with me.

  10. Safer? I’m not so sure -at least not compared to big ol’ cars with full frames- but one thing’s fer sure: These cars are totaled in quite minor accidents. The airbags pop; the seatbelt tensioner-helper thingies ‘splode; the crumple zones may just crumple a little…but that’s enough to have to have it all replaced; etc. etc. So basically, these cars are yet another thing pushing insurance way up and making cars more unattainable to us peons.

    It’s unfathomable the sheer number of late-model cars you see at the salvage auctions all across this country every single week these days. A few decades ago, 80% of these cars would have been no big deal to fix- just fender-benders- but today…all totaled; throw ’em out; buy a new one. The ins. co.s can’t even get much out of ’em now, ’cause they’re all branded as salvage or parts-only from now till the end of time.

  11. What drives me nuts is all the car commercials out now that show drivers doing some idiot thing, not paying attention to the road, then the car “saves” them from their own stupidity and irresponsibility. These ads make it seem like it’s OK to just let your mind and eye wander and let the car’s “safety” features take care of you. I guess I’m out of touch because I find the scenario to be jaw-droppingly appalling.

    • Dear Jason,

      Don’t feel like the Lone Ranger. I have exactly the same reaction when I see Idiocracy-based ads like that.

      Ditto Hollywood films that show a beloved single mom “tragically” getting killed and leaving her young daughter orphaned because she took her eyes off the road trying to retrieve something that slid off the seat to the floor.

      Have a little patience for chrissakes, and wait til you pull up at a stop sign or over to the side of the road.

    • The same way the liberal media programs people to believe that guns are dangerous by showing unsafe and irresponsible gun habits in films and tv.

      I know many people who have never hit or been hit by cars. Myself included.
      These safety commercials make it seem that EVERY driver will get in a life-threatening crash at some point. Not true.

      If the gov really wanted safety for us as the top priority in life, then they would discourage car usage. Driving is one of the most unhealthy and dangerous activities you will ever do. Even if you are never involved in a collision, the stress of driving, the sitting for hours a day, and the bad habits that personal transport supports far outweighs any benefits. Heck each hour behind the wheel shortens your life span.

  12. Lots of safer-than-ever vehicles in the ditch along eastbound I-70 this morning. And it wasn’t like there was a sudden icy patch, the whole way in was a mess.

    Another thought: Back when we had rear wheel drive and lousy tires a lot of people probably decided to stay home instead of putting on the chains. Now that AWD and good tread design make chains mostly unnecessary, who cares! Let’s go!

  13. Until Uncle lets me have the Takata airbags disabled in my 2010 E-Class I will never believe that NHTSA or the DOT cares one whit about “safety”.

    • Do you need “permission” to pay a visit to the loo? How about going grocery shopping? Then WHY even ask permission to disable the bags? Just disable them Its YOUR car, ain’t it?

      • And who would even know, unless he lives in an inspection state (the airbag light would be on) or unless he has a bad accident and the Nazis see that the bags didn’t deploy. (“What? Sensors unplugged? Wires snipped? How did that happen?! I don’t know anyhting about it.”)

        • I unplugged the airbags in my ’03 Corolla when it first made the news that they were just waiting to kill me. The trick is to unplug them right at the exploder, leaving the rest of the circuitry intact; doesn’t show anything when the “saaaafety” inspector scans the computer so you don’t have to bother plugging it back in for that. Of course Toyota keeps send me notices to bring it to the stealership asap so I finally called and told them I no longer owned that car. ?

  14. The folks have a Fiat 500. The one with the tanga top. It rear visibility is terrible. It also doesn’t have a backup camera and screen (its a ’15, guessing the ’16 do, since its a requirement now). Though it does have the buzzer if you’re getting close to something when going in reverse.

    Since nobody sits in the back, dad slipped the headrests out to keep them from blocking the bottom of the tiny rear window (the tanga top one is even smaller if you can believe it). They sat on the back seat a few weeks, but I noticed they were on a shelf in the basement last time I was there. Hopefully some hero won’t notice he doesn’t have them in the car and write him a ticket over it. Even when the tanga top is down, the rear view is still bad, as the thick rear pillars don’t go away.

    That car is a double edge sword in my book. Dad is 75 and really isn’t a very good driver (he never was, but age is only going to make it worse). Smaller, I think is better for him, since he tends to bump things at low speeds, once in a while (their other vehicle is a Ford Freestar minivan, which is becoming too big for them). So far it hasn’t happened with this car. But since the visibility sucks there will be lots of places he won’t see. I doubt he hears the buzzers, and the lights on the dash will likely only confuse him, as he is clueless when it comes to electronics made after 1975.

    I wish they lived down south, so they could have a pre-1985 daily driver. It would be much more suited to him, and he would prefer a car like that better anyway (too much salt around here).

    • Something I’m proud of my dad having done is turn in his license and sell the car, once he got old enough and realized that his driving skills weren’t good enough any more. He had already stopped driving at night.

      Mom followed him to the dealer to sell the car, and she said he was scary – bumping the curb on right-hand turns, wandering in his lane, and so on.

      • We had a lady in a town near me who was 101 and still drove, and drove well! Unfortunately, she passed away just recently. Also had a 95 year-old aunt who used to drive 23 miles to town on a busy 4-lane several times a week. Hadn’t had an accident in my lifetime.

        Then there was the 60 year-old who used to be a neighbor of my mother’s. She was SCARY! If I’d see her on the road or in the parking lot, I’d give her a very wide berth.

        Kudos to your dad for knowing when to call it quits. Self-regulation is very libertarian. I’ve pretty much been unable to drive at night my whole life, except under some very specific circumstances when I was younger. I any sensibkle and responsible person knows their own limits and acts accordingly.

  15. Yes, cars are more crashworthy today than they were. That has translated into lower injury and fatality numbers (for now). However, I think that the tipping point in terms of driver distractions and visiblility has been reached. In the last 3 years, the fatality rates have been rising despite cars with increasing levels of “saaafety.” In 2014, approximately 33,000 people were killed on the freeways. Today, that level is just short of 40,000. Although miles driven have risen, the vehicle mix and the driving mix has changed. How much of that has to do with the newer cars should be up to debate. Instead, people go along as if nothing has changed. The usual suspects – higher speed limits, belt use and “the driver” are blamed for higher accidents. No one pays attention to the higher CG of new cars, reduced visibility, and vehicle touchscreens that are causing people to take their eyes off the road to adjust temperature, audio or any other feature ofthe car.

    No one has done a realistic analysis of crashes in over 50 years since Solomon and Cirillo found that people driving 10-12 mph above the average speed have the lowest accident involvement rate on an interstate highway, and people driving 10 mph below have a higher accident rate than people driving 20 mph above.

    Until a meaningful study is conducted, we will never know the answer to the questions that Eric raises.

    All I know is that the mileage fatality rates have turned up and it has nothing to do with speed, speed limits or even “use of wireless devices.” I believe that the increase in fatalities and accidents have some of the following causes:

    1. Reduced visibility with large pillars and blindspots.
    2. Automaker added driver distraction such as automatic braking, blindspot warning and touchscreen audio and climate control devices
    4. Poor throttle response of “drive by wire” and fuel economy addled cars. Most new cars have delay in throttle response after mashing the gas. Increased acceleration times.
    5. Increased urban sprawl with attendant long traffic lights, shopping opportunities, quick turn ins on higher speed (45 mph roads that used to be posted at 55 or more and designed initially for 70 mph cruising) roads, causing visual clutter and external driver distraction and flow conflict.
    6. Increased pedestrian interaction on these higher speed roads caused by a drop in car ownership.

    • Hey Swamp, I’m sure you know this, but there are no ‘freeways.’ There are tollways (becoming more common, but not as a product of true privitization), taxways (vast majority) and, in a few cases, charity ways – e.g., the mall owner pays for the road that brings you in.

  16. Imagine if you will a world where each car had a 4 inch stainless steel spike installed in the steering wheel and no seatbelts.

    The roads would be a much kinder and polite place.


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