The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

5 November 2005

Bumper crop

For some reason, bits and pieces of this paragraph have been sitting in the back of my head for half my lifetime, and finally I got hold of the full text.

Original appearance: Car and Driver, October 1979, a column by editor David E. Davis, Jr. He's quoting, he says, "the smartest man in Detroit," who is otherwise unidentified — Frank Winchell? Bob Lutz? — on the subject of crash tests, and the dummies who have faith in them:

I only hope that my great-grandchildren, looking back on this period with all its stupidity and institutionalized superstition, will appreciate the fact that I was against everything. Take crashworthiness. Nothing else made by man or God is designed to crash. Ships aren't designed to sink. Jet aircraft aren't designed to crash. Only cars. Try to imagine a rainbow trout or a tiger that was designed to withstand a 30-mph barrier impact. A wild duck designed to survive the federal barrier test would be the funniest-looking organism you ever saw. It wouldn't be able to lift off the water, let alone fly. Have you ever noticed that virtually everything in nature is beautiful? That's because it's been allowed to evolve along lines that make it most efficient for the tasks it has to perform. Nature protects her creatures from crashing by providing them with mobility, and the instincts to take advantage of that mobility. Creatures that persist in crashing into barriers don't become better adapted to barrier crashes, they become extinct, as they should.

Of course, now we have a multiplicity of air bags, based on the notion that what you really need is not the ability to avoid an accident — it is an immutable law of the American road that anyone who promises to learn how to parallel-park some day can get a driver's license — but an explosion a few centimeters from your breastbone that drops the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man in your lap. And nowadays, you can be ticketed for not fastening your seat belt, which is no different, qualitatively, from being fined for ordering extra mayo on your Whopper. (Not that I'd ever order any mayo on a Whopper, but this is an aesthetic issue, not a health issue, and if it becomes a health issue — well, I can only hope that my great-grandchildren, looking back on this period with all its stupidity and institutionalized superstition, will appreciate the fact that I was against everything.)

Posted at 6:12 AM to Driver's Seat


TrackBack: 7:16 PM, 5 November 2005
» EVOLVED CRASH-TEST DESIGN from Population Statistic
Call me kooky, but this diatribe against car-crash safety testing from a 16-year-old issue of Car and Driver brings to mind a current-day controversy — and it ain’t automobile-related: Take crashworthiness. Nothing else made by man or God......[read more]

Um -- American cars aren't "designed to crash." But crashes do happen, because of a number of factors that that rather glib article ignores. For one thing, cars weren't made by God, but by men -- and they aren't like ducks, which are living organisms, but boxes on wheels, which need a human being to move them about. Crash tests aren't done to see how well cars can crash, but to see how well cars stand up to a crash.

I do agree that people need to be better drivers. But accidents will happen as long as human beings have to use machines to move about more rapidly than a walk. Way back in the days before cars were invented, there were buggy accidents and carriage mishaps too.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at 8:33 AM on 5 November 2005

I should have said "cars aren't designed to crash." I don't know why I put "American" in there.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at 8:35 AM on 5 November 2005

...no different, qualitatively, from being fined for ordering extra mayo on your Whopper.

Wait a minute -- you mean you can't be fined for ordering extra mayo on your Whopper? What liberal activist judge overturned that law!?

Actually, around here the only way you can get "extra" mayo on something at some places, is if they just empty the institutional-size jar on it.

Posted by: McGehee at 8:36 AM on 5 November 2005

The problem with "passive" safety components, as that aforementioned rather glib article really doesn't say, is not so much that they exist — they do add weight in inopportune locations, which is bad for handling and which costs fuel to haul around — but that in their presence, people tend to become a bit more complacent than they ought to be. (Then there's the trial-lawyer factor, which boils down to "There were five air bags in this car and she still died!")

I buckle up every time; have for thirty years. But you put me in a car that automatically wraps a belt around me, as was required in some models circa 1980, and the first thing I'll do is bring out a knife.

Posted by: CGHill at 11:22 AM on 5 November 2005

> Nature protects her creatures from crashing by providing them with mobility, and the instincts to take advantage of that mobility. Creatures that persist in crashing into barriers don't become better adapted to barrier crashes, they become extinct, as they should.

I believe creatures with exoskeletons have been around a while. And turtles probably won't be going extinct any time soon. If animals decided to travel at speeds exponentially higher than nature designed them to, I'm betting very few would not be extinct.

That's not to say that all automobile safety devices are equal in a cost/benefit analysis. But to oppose any required safety features in high speed automobiles seems a bit ... radical, to say the least.

Posted by: MikeH at 1:59 PM on 5 November 2005

Keep in mind that your array of bags is marked "Supplemental Restraint System": it's there in addition to the safety belt, which you ought to have enough sense to wear (and which shouldn't be a legal mandate, any more than eating your spinach should be a legal mandate). The bags provide an additional increment of safety, at a price about ten times that of the belts alone. And early bags had a tendency to inflate at the wrong time, or to injure short people Diminutive-Americans. By now they've gotten most of the kinks out of them, but were I car-shopping today, the number and positioning of the air bags, on my priority list, would be about even with "button to switch odometer to metric."

Of course, that's just me. Your mileage may vary. (See dealer for details.)

Posted by: CGHill at 3:07 PM on 5 November 2005

The presence of air bags never made me complacent. I'd read too many horror stories about air bags smothering short drivers, not to mention "air bag burn" (I believe those things heat up when they come out), to want to ever have them deploy.

In any case, I think that most people drive about the same, in fact a little more carefully than they used to in the days of hot rods and all-steel sedans with no seat belts much less air bags. Driving is simply more dangerous because there are more cars on the road, and more distractions (cd players, cell phones) in our cars.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at 3:55 PM on 5 November 2005

And DVD players, yet. I suspect I'd be easily drawn away by the screen of an in-dash navigation system; fortunately for me, these are seldom offered in cars I can reasonably afford.

Posted by: CGHill at 4:04 PM on 5 November 2005

If ever I have a DVD player in any vehicle, it will NOT be viewable by the driver, but rather there to entertain kids or grandkids.

Posted by: unimpressed at 4:32 PM on 5 November 2005

Maybe it's because of the current events on my brain, but it sounds like evolution is trumping intelligent design here...

Posted by: CT at 6:32 PM on 5 November 2005

I can't understand why those directional computer screen thingies have been allowed in cars. Oh great, one more thing to look at in your car that isn't the road.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at 6:54 PM on 5 November 2005

I believe creatures with exoskeletons have been around a while. And turtles probably won't be going extinct any time soon. If animals decided to travel at speeds exponentially higher than nature designed them to, I'm betting very few would not be extinct.

Turtles, insects, clams and such are not, generally, in the habit of seeking to crash into barriers. In fact, clam shells don't save the clams from those predators smart enough to drop them on rocks. And, as a member of a species that quite regularly travels at speeds exponentially higher than our natural design would allow on it's own, I have to say I'm failing to notice a decline in population...

Posted by: Chris at 7:42 PM on 7 November 2005