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THE VAULT: Archives of Past Features
Automotive Safety – A Brief Web Tour
By: Mike Connell


What are the criteria that people consider when looking for a car – new or used? I think it is different for everyone – not necessarily due to different tastes, but because of the reasons behind the purchase. Simple transport versus phat ride (I've always wanted to use that word!).

Until recently, one thing I have almost never had at the top of my list was safety. I started paying more attention when I started paying a grand extra for anti-lock brakes, extra passenger-side airbag, etc. Rationalization sets in. Why do I need anti-lock brakes when my '80s era Young Drivers of Canada taught me to pump the brakes when sliding – a strategy and action which effectively disables anti-lock brakes on contemporary cars.

Air bags are a different matter. My immediate response used to be positive in relation to these supplemental restraining systems . . . immediate until I was in an accident (I wasn't driving!). Ploughing into a stalled vehicle on the 401, late at night, saw the front of our rental (whew!) crumpled up to the dash. All safe and sound we quickly realized the airbag hadn't – what's that word? – oh ya, deployed! Crumpled to the dash, and no airbag.

Sites like "BagBuster" (www.bagbuster.com) start by letting you know that "Airbags can deploy after an accident!" Great. Here we are in the back of our car – being towed, and no room in the cab – with the tow-truck driver giggling away, aiming for bumps in anticipation of imminent deployment, not to mention the subsequent soiling of ourselves. Thankfully it didn't happen, but it brings to mind not only how important it is to have a safe car, but once that criteria has been met, making sure the safety features will actually work.

"BagBuster" promotes the sale of the product of the same name: a device mounted on your steering wheel that prevents deployment. A good idea, and an even better one that there are sites out there that promote these types of materials, in addition to opinions concerned with car safety. The CAA site (www.caa.ca) is a good one to look at every now and then, as well as its American counterpart, the AAA foundation for Traffic Safety. Both have detailed info on up-to-date safety concerns as well as forums for individual concerns from interested drivers.

I'm a big advocate of the CAA. No, not because I've locked my keys in my car 5 times, and not because I left my lights on twice. The CAA deserves some praise simply because it exists to inform and aid the everyday motorist. Simple directions to detailed tripping strategies in addition to information-based sites covering the latest and greatest innovations of both the car industry, and the bodies regulating it. The innovation of the "smart airbag" is discussed: This amendment to the current safety feature gauges velocity and impact in order to determine the force of deployment. An "on/off" switch is also considered . . . providing the driver with the option of having the safety feature on/off (I probably did not need to explain that, right?) probably with regard to the dangers associated with the passenger side bag and children. All in all an interesting site to stop by.

One to bookmark would be USA Today's page (www.usatoday.com/money/consumer/autos/marecall.htm). This page lists press releases and bulletins on events happening in the auto area, plus lists all recalls made by manufacturers regarding various models and their subsequent glitches. As unsettling as it is to hear of model defects – cars exploding when all you wanted to do was access the gas-cap – it is still nice to know that there are ample arenas out there for finding all of that information out before you make a purchase.

The one I won't advocate on this occasion, but feel compelled to include in this little rant would be the FARS – Fatality Analysis Reporting System (www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/fars/fars.cfm). This may be going a little far in letting us know just how bad things have gotten – or at least come up with a different name! Far from subtle, it's fairly self-explanatory just what this gem of a site provides. Suffice it to say that their summation indicates that "The Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) contains data on all crashes in the United States that occur on a public roadway and where a fatality is involved in the crash". Lovely. On that note, does anyone need a drive home?

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