Crashes of the Good Kind
Like the good witch of the north, crash tests play the good kin to the crashes of the road
October 6, 2008
By Vanessa Paris
Lots of things keep us safe on the road. Informed behavior, pressure on auto engineers, and new devices found in today’s vehicles all play a part. Adrian Lund, psychologist and president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), tells the story in an interview with Eriesense.
Eriesense: What’s the best way to stay safe on the road? (It’s all about the airbags, isn’t it?)
Lund: People don’t like to hear this, but if you really want to reduce the likelihood of a crash, just obey traffic laws. If everyone followed the speed limits, drove with distance between other vehicles and paid attention to traffic lights, we’d all be much safer on the road.
Eriesense: So it’s that simple?
Lund: Not really. As a psychologist, I recognize how hard it is to change behavior—especially driving behavior. But we also don’t have to make humans into perfect drivers to prevent crashes.
Ever hear of crashing houses?
The IIHS has been performing crash tests for more than 30 years in efforts to make cars safer. And someone is following their lead.
The Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) will soon be using the crash test technique to strengthen building safety—but instead of crashing cars, they’ll crash houses in a lab specially created for testing. President Julie Rochman says, “We’ll be blowing things down, burning them up, blowing them apart, drowning them—it’s going to be great.” The results may be used in future movies and—more importantly—will help improve building safety and strength.
Eriesense: What else can you do?
Lund: The human, the vehicle and the environment are all links in a chain leading to crash injuries; if we can break any one of those links, we can prevent the injuries.
Eriesense: Tell us about the vehicle link.
Lund: Vehicle design can help prevent injuries and reduce crash damage. Through crash tests, we’ve shown the public and automakers how vehicles are—or are not—keeping people safe in the most common kinds of crashes. The results encourage auto makers to improve the products.
Eriesense: A little peer pressure works wonders, eh?
Lund: Well, a lot of peer pressure and economic pressure on the auto makers! Consumers are increasingly aware of and looking for safety information.
Eriesense: If I’m buying a new car, what details should I keep in mind?
Lund: First, make sure the car has side impact airbags, especially ones that will protect your head. Next, look for electronic stability control, or ESC, a system that can determine whether the car is going in the direction you’re trying to point it. It knows if any of your wheels begin to slip and applies brakes to individual wheels, often without you even knowing it’s happening. We’re seeing more than a 50 percent reduction in single vehicle fatal crashes with cars that have ESC. That’s huge.
Eriesense: Is it hard to find a car with ESC?
Lund: ESC is getting increasingly more common. In fact, it’s now standard equipment on the vast majority of SUVs. Before everybody understands what ESC is, it’s probably going to be standard on all cars. However, people buying pickups need to be really watchful; many don’t have ESC available even as an option.
Eriesense: What do you think we’ll see more of in the future?
Lund: We’re paying attention to new crash avoidance technology, because obviously the best crash is the one that doesn’t happen. We don’t know which systems will work the best, so we’re going to find out and then let consumers know.