If Safety Mattered

In several objective ways, new cars are less “safe” than cars built decades ago.

A strong statement. One that probably seems ridiculous, too, given all the “safety” features new cars have that old cars did not – and also given the fact that new cars must pass a battery of crash tests before they may legally be sold to the public.

But “safety” is a slippery thing.

An analogy may help get the point across.

Battleships were considered virtually invulnerable; they had armor belts more than a foot thick in some cases. Then came naval aviation. And the air-dropped torpedo. One or two of these – a few thousand bucks each, maybe – could slide under a battleship’s armor belt (which generally did not extend below the waterline) and make short work of a billion-dollar capital ship.

Current Prices on popular forms of Silver Bullion

How “safe” is the new car you can’t see very well out of – because of over-tall headrests and up-high beltlines and girder-thick roof support pillars – vs. the pre-“safe” car that gave you an excellent view of what was coming at you from the side and behind?

Do anti-lock brakes encourage some drivers to tailgate? Does traction control encourage some people to drive too fast on slick roads? Have higher grip thresholds given people a false sense of security? Eighty MPH in a modern car doesn’t feel as fast as 60 did in the pre-“safety” era.

The physics haven’t changed, just the perception.

The new car is probably (though not necessarily) more crashworthy. But which is more likely to be involved in a crash?     

Much of government-mandated “safety” is reactive – it is about making cars “safer” to crash. More survivable when you wreck. Air bags fall into this category.

It would probably be safer to avoid the crash.

That used to be the emphasis. It’s not any more. Less and less is expected of the driver. More and more is demanded of the car. Even to the extent of simple competences such as parallel parking, which – we give up – is now in many cars handled automatically by a computer, which takes over and steers the car into its slot. The “driver” merely pushes a button.

One could make a pretty solid case that a person not able to parallel park a car on their own is probably not a “safe” driver.

The car is expected to have skills and be aware. The driver not so much.

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