Motor vehicles account for 1.3 million people killed and millions more
injured worldwide each year. Many of these tragedies didn't have to
happen. Defects in vehicles, rather than the wrecks themselves, account
for a significant portion of the deaths and terrible injuries.
When someone is killed or seriously hurt in a wreck, one should ask if
a safety defect in the vehicle was at least partly to blame. While it's
true that cars and trucks can't be designed to prevent all deaths
and injuries, good engineering is supposed to lead to reasonable protection
of the passengers. This is called crashworthiness.
In the 1960's, federal standards were created that set a minimum level
of performance for such things as how a fuel tank must not leak in a crash,
how side impact intrusion into the passenger compartment must be minimal,
and how a roof must not cave in during a rollover.
Wrecks do occur, but when they do, the vehicle is supposed to keep the
occupants safe except in extraordinary circumstances. The car or truck
is supposed to have a strong protective cage around the passengers, and
the cage should maintain the survival space. In combination with seatbelts
and airbags, the cage should minimize if not entirely eliminate serious
injury or death.
Racecar drivers avoid serious injuries at tremendously high speeds because
of the design integrity of their occupant cage areas. Production automakers
like GM and Ford can and should use good safety engineering in their vehicles,
but sometimes they don't. Safer designs, while feasible, are ignored
more often than we would like.
Examples include the GM ignition switch that just caused it to recall millions
of vehicles, roofs that are too weak, fuel tanks that are too near rear
bumpers and explode, and the use of tempered glass in windows, allowing
ejection of occupants. So when death or horrible injuries happen in a
wreck, it's wise to ask if the vehicle performed as required by the
auto safety regulations. Maybe it didn't.