Sunday, May 15, 2011

United Nations Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020

Although I'm not typically a big fan of the UN, I think this is a great initiative.  I wrote a post about this topic a few months back.. here  so I am glad to see the UN also promoting vehicle safety.  Maybe it's not a forgotten war after all.   United Nations Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020

Road traffic injuries remain a major public health problem and a leading cause of death, injury and disability around the world. Each year, nearly 1.3 million people die and between 20 million and 50 million more are injured as a result of road crashes. More than 90 per cent of these deaths occur in low-income and middle-income countries, which have less than half of the world’s vehicles. Road traffic injuries are among the three leading causes of death for people between 5 and 44 years of age.

Road traffic injuries threaten to hinder achievements in economic and human development. It has been estimated that global losses due to road traffic injuries total $518 billion and cost Governments between 1 and 3 per cent of their gross national product. In some low- and middle-income countries, the loss is more than the total amount of development assistance they receive. Road traffic injuries place a heavy burden on a country’s economy as a result of their direct impact on health-care and rehabilitation services, as well as through indirect costs. They also can put considerable financial stress on affected families, who often must absorb medical and rehabilitation costs, funeral costs and such other costs as the lost earnings of the victim, in addition to extensive emotional strain.
1.3 million dead per year and another 20-50 million injured. Woah. True, most of the deaths occur in lower income areas where vehicles and roads aren't built to the same standards, city traffic is a hot mess and overloaded buses regularly plunge off mountain roads, but even in the USA there are some 40,000 accident related deaths a year. The perplexing thing to me is why do people seem to just accept those statistics and drive on. Where is the outrage?    

The world is pretty much stuck on a paradigm for the automobile that they ought to be comfortable, sporty, efficient, stylish, quiet, and oh by the way they should pass minimum government safety standards as well.  But I think the key design feature for an automobile should be occupant safety with performance and creature comfort features added in later. Start with a full roll cage structure and use 5-point seat belts or even roller coaster style restraints for the passengers.  The goal should be that customers don't get killed using your product. 
 
We should at least attempt to make the 16 year kid going 45 mph down the road as safe as a NASCAR driver going 200 mph down the straightaway. The technology is there to make ultra-safe cars, but apparently there is no demand from the market and so none of the world's many automakers see a business case to develop one. Instead they pore over minor improvements in the design and performance to give their products some incremental advantage over the competition.

But maybe the ultra-safe car is the sort of innovation that could totally change the way all cars are designed and built. As a completely untapped market, the first automaker that offers cars like this will define a new market segment and grab a leadership role that all the others will have to play catch-up to match. Every driver and passenger that emerges from a serious accident alive will become a loyal fan providing free advertisement that money couldn't buy.  

Why wouldn't an automaker take advantage of an opportunity to fill a void in the market and sell vehicles that people will clamor to buy for a premium instead of just slug it out with the competition for meager margins trying to make cars that are essentially alike but slightly different. Why not make a vehicle that blows away the competition in safety metrics even if it lags in performance and creature comfort? What other design feature could possibly be as important to a parent purchasing a vehicle for their child?

So cudos to the UN for promoting this initiative.  Hopefully it prompts the industry to design and sell  vehicles that make occupant safety the main priority.

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