SafetyCar: An Idea Whose Time Has Come?

We honor our war dead, but not our traffic deaths, writes Stephen Simac in this darkly tongue-in-cheek look at the perfect safe vehicle.

Published: 07-Mar-2005

Another story about teenagers smashing a car or three up, dead bodies littered across the highway, cripples being loaded into ambulances. It's enough to really harsh your buzz, even when you're following your bliss. The New Years resolution to only write about solutions, not problems is all good and all. But Traffic Safety can keep you awake at night, trying to solve it, or worrying about it. I've chosen to solve it. With prom and grad nights coming up, then the summer drinking season, it's a war zone out there for America's teenaged drivers (and their passengers). You have to wonder when parents are justifiably terrified by the idea of their kid driving a Humvee in Iraq, but wave as their teenager takes off in a car on America's highways. Take your cell phone, in case of emergency, dear.

Not withstanding the recent study that showed using a cell phone gave an 18 year old the braking reflexes of a 70 year old. Add a few passengers and a beer and you're talking centenarian skills. You can only wonder about septuagenarians on cell phones.

We have holidays for America's war dead, but don't have a Traffic Deaths day. Every three day holiday turns into one, though. There's just too many victims to mourn, more than all our wars combined. A steady 40-50,000 Americans killed a year for the last five decades, rapidly increasing for several decades before that. That doesn't count the severely and partially disabled from traffic accidents, mostly in automobiles.

Baby, You Can't Drive My Car

The motor vehicle industry has had a pretty good ride for the last century, dispersing their external costs all over the landscape, while their profits accrued centrally. This is particularly clear when it comes to emergency medical care for accidents, lost life span from deaths and long term care for injuries. That doesn't include traffic law enforcement, building and maintaining the roads. Air and road pollution caused cancers, heart and lung ailments and cleaning costs. It goes on and on. Nobody is sending the manufacturers a bill.

Building a safer car has always come grudgingly to Detroit. Ralph Nader had to pull seatbelts out of their rectums with pliers, airbags took some serious twisting and red hot pokering. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that 329,000 American lives have been saved since 1960 because of legislatively required automobile safety features. Which basically means we've been held hostage as crash test dummies by car manufacturers, until they were forced to change.

The Swedes have gone at automobile safety with a passion, even building in features that somewhat protect the people and animals their cars impact with. People are still getting killed in Volvos, possibly more by them. Detroit monster SUV's are crushing passengers when they roll over and smaller cars when they roll over them. Allowing some of these tanks to be driven on public roads, is like letting rodeo cowboys ride bulls for transportation.

Teenagers are the most at risk from traffic fatalities statistically, but of course individual defensive or destructive habits make a big difference. Rigorous Driver's Ed for licensing would help. A motor vehicle is basically a weapon loaded for bear, but almost anyone can get behind the wheel. There's a lot of factors that make people more dangerous drivers to themselves and others. Impaired Driving and Distracted Diving are primary causes of accidents. Aggressive Driving ranks with them.

Little Old Lady From Pasadena

Now it must be possible to build a car that can't be started when you are impaired, has fewer distractions and doesn't support aggressive driving. Probably no one would buy it willingly unless it were very, very cheap.

Some drivers however, really shouldn't be given a choice. They usually don't know who they are, but the law does. With a restricted driver's licenses, these drivers can drive any car they want, as long as it's a SafetyCar.

So I set about designing a SafetyCar, at least in my mind, which has been pretty active lately. It can be hard to sleep when you're trying to reduce highway deaths and injuries by several orders of magnitude. Kinda like a tsunami in reverse. Sometimes just ideas are enough to change behaviors, other times you gotta kick em in the ribs to loosen their grip on the status quo. Naturally it has to be really Cheap to own and operate as well as Safe. A real FolksWagon. Maybe give it a zoomorphic name like Critterz to create empathy and some buzz.

Enough with the marketing, engineering is the key. Start with the metal. It's expensive, even though China is slaving away at that. Steel at Speed is a proven killer, since the Dark Ages. And it rusts away or crumples, gets scratched, weighs too much.

Deadhead Sticker On A Cadillac

No need for it, with all the hemp based plastics and resins out there, at least in the body. Maybe some components will have to be metal or ceramic or carbon fiber or whatever. Let the chemists work it out. If it's really lightweight, it can be powered by a small electric engine, powered by solar cells on the roof. Thus, top speed and moving mass will be less of a risk to occupants and the real world they aren't paying attention to.

I thought about including airbags, but the cost of replacing them often totals the worth of the car, especially a cheap car. And there's already enough hearing loss. Impact cushioning built into the frame and shell of the car and around the passengers, will make the whole car an airbag, without the bang. The shape might have to be a little bulbous, but so is a raindrop and how aerodynamic are they? (note: look that up. )

I thought of a giant foam or styrofoam NerfCar, then discarded it. Damn dogs would chew it up, although it could make it a more pleasant experience to get hit by a car. Maybe with a canoe grade plastic shell around it, the kind you can return dents to the original shape with a heat gun.

It would probably be ugly, but so was a Model T, and these could be white or silver, the safest colors. They would sell if SafetyCars were a required vehicle for Legally Restricted Drivers. Repeat OUI drivers, and there's more out there than just drunks, would probably have to pass an impairment test before starting the engine.

Hard to be aggressive in one of these babies. Kinda like driving a Teletubby. Making it a Single Seater with no stereo or cell phone reception would reduce distractions and punish those aggro punks. That'll teach em to use their turn signals.

The good part is that teenagers and other losers on the economic wheel, and some seriously bad drivers could now own their own legal, safer vehicle with a part time job, social security check, drug dealing or whatever. Learn the ropes before they drive a killer machine, or just stick with a CheapSafetyCar. Ease older drivers into these Crittterz as they lose vital skills, like a memory.

Little Red Corvette

Then, while looking for some Magic volleyball shoes I read about this incredible Aerogel stuff. Extremely lightweight, transparent, with fantastic impact absorption. With viagra like side effects. Imagine a vehicle shell built out of this stuff. No more driving naked, that's for sure.

That reminds me, there's still the obesity factor of Americans driving everywhere. Busy, busy solving the safety issue, what about Health? The Pope in Rome has recently come out against the "health and well being religion," calling it "health fiend madness". He's concerned about the rising cost of medical care to meet this cult's unrealistic expectations of not suffering.

He must not have read my January solution for lowering health care costs by outsourcing sick and old people to third world countries. (note: Catholic countries for even greater savings.)

Still Americans are not getting fatter and sicker because they're worshipping this fiendish craze sweeping the globe. We are pretty much practicing the old "wealth and hellness religion."

If the HealthyCheapSafetyCar (note: starting to sound German) were actually an Aerogel enclosed bicycle, a pedaled two wheeler, with a solar powered electric motor assist for hills and maintaining highway speed, it could make us all heretics.

On a bicycle you can skip all the registration, insurance, parking tickets, even licensing isn't required. Any idiot can ride a bicycle. This is starting to be really affordable, now. Haven't priced out the Aerogel, yet. The shoes were expensive. Might be cheaper in bulk.

I pretty much gave up bicycling after the second idiot in a motor vehicle ran into me. Luckily I was flung quite a ways, or they would have rolled over me as well. Both said they never saw me. Started to give me an Invisibility Complex.

Surrounded by this Aerogel, lit up like a redneck on moonshine, any bicyclist would feel safer. And if driving idiots were in them too, risks would go down. And there's nothing like a motor assist for going up hills, especially at 40 mph, with a hard on.

It would be safe and cheap enough for the commoners, yet stylish enough to attract reality TV stars into using them. I'd like to see Paris Hilton getting out of one. Got to stop chewing on these shoes, if I want to play volleyball.

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