Jack, you make a good point. I make a point of not keeping live armed ordinance in front of my face, and yet I am forced to carry the airbag detonator in front of me whenever I drive. And much of the time my hands are at more like 1 and 11, so if it went off I would be in deep..... But I pay close attention as I drive and so I avoid collisions. Amazinly enough, it seems that most collisions and other accidents are caused by driver inattention, more than twice as many as all other causes combined. So reducing driver distraction by reducing driver distractions would seem to be a good choice. But not a profitable one, and they always go with the money.
William, I agree with your points and would like to add one more. I just ran across another article on driving that said the correct hand positions are no longer 10 and 2. There wasn't a 100% new recommendation, but it tended toward 9 and 3. Why? Because if your hands are in the wrong position, the airbag in the steering wheel can remove them for you or severely burn the skin. As they are placed in more and more locations, what are the additional dangers if you are not sitting quite right?
Your first two points are right on, William K. Your third point, I honestly don't know but will take your word for it. All of the points, however, reveal one great truth about airbags: Consumers don't understand them and inaccurately consider them to be a panacea, which they are not.
The problem with airbags is, first, that a person still needs to wear a seatbelt to stay in the correct location for the bag to provide the adequate protection, second, that as the speeds increase the protection that they provide decreases, and third, that as cars continue to be designed with greater crumple zones, there winds up being a fairly sharp rise in decelleration rate when that zone is all crumpled, but the trigger has not yet detected enough decelleration to trigger the bag until it is almost too late. THis situation gets far worse as the vehicle steel rusts under the assault of road salt and brine take their tolls, causing the extended crumple zone to absorb much less energy prior to being completely crushed. At that point the airbags primarily assure that the repair bill will be great enough to assure that the car would be scrapped.
I do not see that development as an improvement or as progress.
Did you ever see one of those stock cars lose it and do a string of endovers fro 160 MPH? and then get out of the car and walk away? Certainly banged and bruised, but also alive and walking. AND NO AIRBAG IN THE CAR.
At some point it is nessesary for people to be responsible for the outcome of their actions. Sometimes when you mess up you do pay a price. And nature's price is quite harsh on many occasions.
Everything I've seen over the past 20 years would suggest you're right on the money, William K. I remember talking to GM execs who fought the airbag mandate for the exact reason you mention: Airbags provided only a little bit of coverage beyond what three-point belts were already providing. Seemed like the harder GM fought, however, the worse they looked in the newspapers, and the less people believed them.
IT is certainly true that putting enough airbags in a car will protect the occupants up to some speed. Above that speed there is presently not enough time for the bag to inflate, if the inflation velocity is held to safe values. The speeds that allow them to protect most effectively are from about 20 MPH to about 50 MPH. This is what I have learned from being involved with crash safety testing for six years. Also, the automakers concern that the passengers must be in the correct position is correct. The fact is that to provide anywhere near the claimed protection a passenger must be wearing the seatbelts as well.
And the amazing thing is that for a properly belted passenger the belts do the most protecting. So my comment is that airbags are severely interfering with natural selection. A far better solution would be to keep those who are unable or unwilling to drive safely from driving at all. Unfortunately our legal system presently awards those folks having the very poorest judgement very highly.
One intelligent option would be to make airbags an extra cost option on a vehicle, rather than force them on everybody. OF course then the reality of the fact that safety does not sell would rear up and present itself, and company would not have as great a profit.
Bobfrommaine: Here you've raised another good point -- yes, airbags work poorly or not at all if the driver or passenger is incorrectly positioned. That's why GM fought airbags so hard in the early '90s, even after Chrysler had bags in 99% of their vehicles. For years, Dr. David Viano of GM tracked surveys and polls that suggested the public didn't understand airbag technology. "All the surveys said the same thing," Viano said in 1992. "The public thought airbags were magic and superior in their effectiveness to seat belts." GM believed that if drivers had airbags, they would stop using seat belts. Hopefully, drivers have figured it out at this point.
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