There is still a vast amount of work to be done...

by scientists and engineers.

I was just reading an article on side air bags, and their effectiveness of protecting passengers. In the article was this little note:

"each year, 43,000 Americans still die in auto accidents "

maybe its because we have an election coming up next week, and we are being bombarded with campaign ads, mostly on the war in Iraq, where a couple thousand Americans have been killed (over the last, what? 6 years?)

by comparison, this boggles the mind! 43,000 people die in this country every year. How many more are seriously injured if that many die?

why isnt anyone talking about this? I dont see any politicians outraged over these numbers, that so many Americans are dying for no reason. Where is the outcry to increase our technology, to make our transportation system safe, and to keep people from driving when they should not?

3,000 people died in the WTC on September 11th. 3,000 people die every 3.7 WEEKS in the US in automobile accidents. Its like a disaster the size of 911 happening 14 times a year, every year, over and over.

There is still so much work to be done, for people to be able to perform functions as simple as driving a car, without this level of destruction happening in our lives!

If anyone has any doubt why we need more engineers and scientists, here is an excellent example.

(the article about side air bags is here: )

Although Air bags have made significant decreases in the number of U.S auto fatalities there is much more the those numbers then just air bags, now cars are made to break apart and absorb the shock but only in perfect conditions, when I am at work and see a car roll over all the side airbags in the world would do nothing to stop the door from pinning the occupants down or the steering column from becoming attached to the driver or front seat passenger(s). I see car accidents almost every shift if not 2 or three on bad weather days and now that most newer cars have side airbags in them the difference in injuries is significant but they still do not stop flying objects, ejections from seats and passenger compartment intrusion by a vehicle part or whatever the vehicle hits.
My main point to all this is its not just the air bags that needs to be worked on its the whole vehicle that needs to be made safer
You read about front and side impact ratings for cars and the numbers are great for those but what about when the car is upside down? Or what if the car is struck at an angle? These are the things that are very important.
Also something that I experienced just 24 hours ago on an accident scene
A car collided with another going about 55-65 mph on Interstate 95 southbound at the MLK exit in Wilmington the cars air bags deployed and the occupants had minor injuries but the car was struck again prior to EMS and Fire Department arrival and the occupants were then severely injured, I can almost be certain in saying that if the airbags would stay deployed those people would have walked away instead of one being flown out in a helicopter.
There have been some great strides in the auto safety industry over the past decade and just in the past few years, gas tanks are much much less susceptible to igniting during an accident and also wider bases and tires that help to prevent roll over from happening.

My main point to all of this is we need to make cars much safer in all aspects and also the drivers need to be safer, so please drive safe and take those extra seconds to stop and to look around I hope you don’t have to find out if your air bags work well enough to safe your life.

Sorry if this is all out of order this is a topic that I am very happy to be seeing discussed here, I hope that one day one, or more, of the many great engineers that FIRST puts out will solve some of these problems


you post is pefectly in line with this thread.

I would like to see engineers take things a leap ahead, and find ways to prevent traffic accidents from happening.

If we had this many people dying each year on commercial airlines the industry would be shut down. Why is it tolerated on the roads?

My theory? It’s because car accidents rarely if ever kill hundreds of people at a time. Which draws your attention more, a hundred dollar bill on the table in front of you, or a thousand one-dollar bills scattered and hidden across a football stadium?

Unfortunately, I don’t think the entire solution is solely in better-engineered cars. Just as a mediocre robot with a good driver will do better than a great robot with a bad driver, we could have nothing but Ford Pintos on the road if people actually knew how to drive. How many times have you had someone nearly clobber you because they were driving too close, too fast, or too distracted? Until they figure out how to fix (or at least curb) human stupidity*, all the engineers in the world (and all the ones to come) won’t be able to fix it.

*The only way I can think to do this is to require folks to re-take their road test every five or ten years, when they renew their license. That leads to a whole slate of other issues, but at least we’d have to brush up on how to do it the right way every now and again.

Actually, if you made the car drive itself then you wouldn’t need to do anything about the human factor. :stuck_out_tongue:
However, the odds of that happening anytime soon are just about 0.

I still cant get over the 43,000 deaths per year figure (118 per day).

I was starting to think the number might be wrong, so I did some checking. Unfortunately, the number is correct.

There must be things we could do to make the present transportation system (cars / trucks / highways / city streets…) less prone to collisions and out of control vehicles

the basic concept of a car and a roadway hasnt changed in the last 100+ years. Maybe that is part of the problem?

I’ve often heard it said that you can’t engineer a fool-proof solution, because some fool will always find a work-around.

Safety will remain an aspirational goal. No product or activity will ever be 100% safe, but every one of them could be safer than it is now.

Just an update: I
I am working right now and at 356pm today we had to respond to a MVC ,Motor Vehicle Collision, involving a full school bus, elementary and middle school students, and a mini-van with a 45 year old and her 10 year old son.

The accident happened at the 300 block of Maryland Ave under the 95 overpass.

The school bus struck the van on the drivers side head on to the van and driver side to the bus.
The mini-vans seat belts and air bags, no side air bags.
There was no injuries on the bus out of 25 kids and one driver, which anyone in the EMS or fire service would know is amazing to have happen.
The seat belt and air bags saved the lives of the mother and her son who was in the back seat properly secured for his age and height with shoulder and lap belts.
So out of about 28 people involved in a what could have been a major incident, and the rest of my work for the night, saftey deviced did work.

So even though there are almost 50,000 deaths a year, just think of how many people don’t die because of it also, that is something that I forgot to mention in my last post that is very important I don’t want people to think that nothing is being done just that there is always more that needs to be done.

Also for those of you that like to research things online look up how many injuries and deaths that side airbags have caused to EMS and Fire personal since their inception here is one of my favorite articles about this topic it is something that I use to help teach new EMTs and was used to teach me.
All these great safety devices also have hidden dangers to them also, I have been on accident scenes where air bags deploy 5-10 minutes after the occupants have been removed from the vehicle. Thankfully no one has been hurt by that that I have witnessed but it dose happen.
Nice fact: If you removed a door that has side air bags placed in it with the inside part of the door facing down and set off the air bag charge it will literally shoot the door about 3-5 feet in the air, imagine that hitting a fire fighter or EMT who is trying to apply aid to someone trapped in a car.
Every thing has its perks and draw backs.

Once again things need to be done and things need to be changed and the best part is the future of those changes is hopefully reading this right now.

I agree that engineers can and should continue to improve the safety of cars, but I think a huge portion of the problem falls on the drivers and the roads themselves. It’s like the Allstate commercial… “they’ve fixed everything about the car except the driver.” From someone who was recently in an accident, I can say surely that the technology did exactly what it’s supposed to do. It kept me from getting hurt and took the brunt of the force.

I am also concerned about the number of accidents that occur at the same location on multiple occasions. The one I was in is only one of three I’ve seen at a single intersection since the start of this school year, yet the speed limit there remains 55 and there is not traffic light, extra turn lane, or anything at all. The very poor visibility in one direction makes it even worse. That’s a problem that should be handled by the highway authorities. There’s nothing car manufacturers can do about that.

As much as I’d like to hope that improving technology will help, I’m afraid a lot of comes down to local governments fixing issues where they arise and individual drivers improving the road awareness.

…Every thing has its perks and draw backs.

Once again things need to be done and things need to be changed and the best part is the future of those changes is hopefully reading this right now.

more reasons why I think more design and engineering needs to be done to stop accidents from happening in the first place. By the time metal is hitting metal at 75mph you are down to the last resorts to saving the passengers

I have heard that two frontal airbags in a car cost over $1000 (added on the sticker price)

If you had $1000 to work with, what could be done to stop cars from colliding in the first place? We have simple auton modes on our robots that drive them - can we design a car control system that wont let a driver cross the center line? Can we design a control system that will take over when a driver has a heart attack, stroke, passes out, faints… behind the wheel, and safely stops the car?

can we use GPS and mapping functions that wont let a car exceed the speed limit on the street it is driving on?

99.9% of the time driving is a low level mundane task, that we spend 2 or 3 hours a day engaged in. Its only those 2 or 3 seconds every few days when we have to respond quickly, or when we stop paying attention that are critical to avoiding a collision.

My engineering instincts tell me there are many things we could do to knock that 43,000 number way down.

What about more public transportation options? More telecommuting to reduce the number of vehicles on the road? Raising the age at which people can obtain a license? Requiring equipment that prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking?

Autonomous vehicles will come, but not anytime soon. They will be extremely complex and expensive machines that will take decades to produce. Cars are fairly safe, its the drivers that are the problem.

fully autonomous, maybe

but they already have the door cracked open a bit.

My baseline Saturn Vue has antilock brakes (that wont let the driver lock up the wheels) and it has an electronic throttle with traction control (that wont let the driver spin the wheels).

Some SUVs are being made with turn rate sensors that wont let you turn fast enough to roll the vehicle over (sense when the vehicle is starting to roll, and straightens out the front wheels!)

So we have vehicles now that are able to ‘over ride’ the driver on the brakes, gas pedal, and the steering - we are almost there.

I don’t really agree with this perception. People are driving 3,000-pound cars at 70 miles per hour. If you’re not treating this as a serious task, you’re doing it wrong.

driving a car on the highway at 70mph

you can set the cruise control, so the vehicle speed is not under your constant control

you only need to keep an eye out ahead, stay 10 car lengths behind the vehicle in front of you

and you are in a zone where you have a 5 to 10 second reaction time. Mostly you are appling a slight pressure to the steering wheel to stay centered in your lane - this is a very low level activity

its when something goes wrong- your car blows a tire, a deer jumps out, a truck passes you then cuts you off, someone crosses the center line and enters your lane - those are the 2-3 second duration events that happen infrequently, when you need to do exactly the right thing, or you collide.

You cant drive with white knuckles on the steering wheel all the time, esp when you are on a long trip. Most people have an intense concentration/attention span of 20 to 40 minutes max.

Which is why I think our transportation system as a whole needs to be changed and improved - we need to come up with ways to prevent vehicles from being able to crash into each other, or into poles and trees…

its those little infrequent random events that cause all the damage.

Half those deaths could be eliminated immediately, without any new technology. That’s because they are caused by drunk drivers.

We should note that the accident, injury and death rates continue to go down. The raw number of road deaths remains relatively constant, but there are many more drivers out there each year (population just passed 300M) and the number of miles per driver also goes up.

If you can get past the “nanny state” argument that was brought up with mandatory seatbelt usage, I bet you could add a breathalyzer type system to cars for less than $1000 each.

Or even removed from the car directly, give each bar a breathalyzer by the door so people who say they are fine but really aren’t can check.


My opinion, build more Mag lifts. Emphasize on public transportation, but in order for public transportation to work it has to be cheep and accessible. Have an express train for going city to city. A mini express train to take you to different sections in the city, and trains in there. We are driving way to many cars.

I don’t think that cars are going to take to the skies either. Cause now you would have the worlds worst drivers (and we’ve all seen them, talking on cell phone, doing make up, reading a book, and eating fast food at the same time while driveing) and you put them up in the air when it seems they can’t even handle the ground in the first place.

Cheap and accessible aren’t the issue; convenient is. Until public transportation is as convenient as driving yourself (or possesses some other serious advantage, like the cost of ownership–think parking on Manhattan), most people will not take public transportation.

Within the past thirty days, I’ve traveled by plane, train, and automobile (literally!), all for distances of several hundred miles. Sure, Amtrak had the most legroom of any of them, but I’m limited by the one train running through Columbia (at 1:12 or 1:39 AM, depending on whether you go north or south). Flying to Cal Games was by far the fastest way to do it, but you’ve got the cost and hassles. (Did you know that you can’t find original-formula Old Spice deodorant in a container under three ounces? I didn’t until I had to find deodorant to pack for Cal Games.) With my car, I set the pace, the destination, the departure time, and any stopovers I so choose (like dinner in Virginia with 116 or a picture at South of the Border). You can’t match the convenience of driving your own car.

A similar thing happens here on campus most nights. Alpha Phi Omega runs a door-to-door escort service, colloquially known by its campus phone number of 7-DUCK. Parking Services’ evening shuttles (two fifteen-passenger vans) travel around campus at night as well. The evening shuttle has to make a full loop of campus, which can take half an hour or more, and you only know it’s coming when you either see its flashing light or you get a reliable reading from the Nextbus signs at some stops. (As the shuttle frequently deviates from its route for various reasons, the signs have a reputation of being unreliable.) You know which option I take whenever I can? 7-DUCK.

For drunk drivers, a cop following a car can tell when the driver is drunk by the way the car moves on the road. How hard would it be for the car itself to detect the driver is swerving more than usual, or driving too fast or too slow, and then just slow down more and more, and stop?

Something like this could also work if a driver falls asleep, or has a serious medical event while driving and loses control.

I think it should be possible to have large sections of cross town roads and highways that would automate driving - once you are on the main road your car drives by itself, until you reach your exit.

Then we would only have to drive on sidestreets, in your own neighborhood for example, or in parking lots. It would be a cross between mass transit and having your own car. When your car is ‘on the rail’ it would be like riding on a bus or train.

This thread reminds me of this thread. Cars are a lot more safe than just a few years ago, but there is a long way to go.

For the past 6 years I’ve helped develop devices which improve automotive safety. The amount of development and testing required for each device that is designed for a vehicle is staggering. in spite of this, new devices are constantly being developed and becoming available on more vehicles.

This discussion is another great example of what’s good about these forums. Hopefully some students reading this will be involved in reducing these dreadful statistics by helping implement these ideas.