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The real crash test dummies

The real crash test dummies

I recently interviewed Greg Hale, Disney's new chief of safety, for this month's cover story about the industry's efforts to help improve amusement park ride safety. He talked about how ride engineers are currently evaluating new kinds of passenger restraint systems.

Disney also takes steps to enforce the use of those devices. On some attractions, for example, sensors are used to identify whether seat belts are properly secured. On other attractions, surveillance cameras are used to monitor guest behavior. Should someone wriggle out of his seat belt, he'll get a verbal warning. If he doesn't buckle up, the ride is shut down.

In the auto industry, it doesn't work that way.

Testing continues apace on new safety devices, like the four-point safety belt that TRW is working on. But there's no assurance anyone will actually use them. Too many do not. In a survey of 1,000 licensed drivers, commissioned by the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, 18% of the respondents said that they never or hardly ever wear their seat belt; 20% said only sometimes.

I'm betting that most of the people who don't wear seat belts either didn't take high school physics or flunked out of it. Just to prove my point, we surveyed 1,000 of our readers about their seat belt usage: 92% said you always wear their seat belt and 8% said you sometimes wear their seat belt. One yahoo reported never wearing one.

The ideal solution would be to pass a law requiring everyone to take a basic course in physics. Or simply read the column in Design News by contributing writer Larry Zirkle, who has plenty of examples on how energy and momentum transfer can kill you. But not everyone is as smart as engineers.

The next-best solution is seat belt laws. Fact is, they work. Every state in the nation has mandatory seat belt laws except New Hampshire, whose state motto, by the way, is "Live Free or Die." States with the most stringent enforcement policies and penalties have the highest seat belt usage rates. Consider my home state of Massachusetts, which has one of the worst usage rates in the nation (52.0% in 1999). (I'd pick on New Hampshire, but it doesn't publish its statistics.) A more stringent seat belt law failed to pass here in 2001. "I NEVER wear my stupid seat belt, in Massachusetts or anywhere else!" rejoiced one of my fellow state residents, reacting to the news in a web posting.

I guess I know who the real crash dummies are.

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