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Redesigning SUVs, pickups reduces fatalities

The boom in SUVs and pickup trucks that began in the mid-1990s raised concern that the larger vehicles posed a safety risk when involved in accidents with smaller cars. SUVs and pickups sometimes rode up on top of smaller vehicles in crashes, increasing the chance of death or injury for the car's passengers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration raised the possibility of imposing new safety rules.

To avoid further government regulation, 15 automakers, representing most of the vehicles on U.S. roads, agreed in 2003 to voluntarily implement design changes that would make all vehicles more compatible. The changes included lowering the height of SUVs, installing impact-absorbing bars below the front bumper, putting in side air bags and providing better head and neck protection for vehicle occupants.

Were such changes warranted? Definitely yes, according to a new report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The report cited the first study done comparing cars involved in crashes with redesigned SUVs and pickups and those that collided with SUVs and pickups that did not have the safety changes.

For car drivers struck in the side by safety-designed SUVs, fatalities dropped 47-48 percent. For front-end collisions, the study found a 18-21 percent decrease in driver deaths.

In crashes involving cars and pickup trucks, the decline was not as dramatic but still significant. Deaths in side-impact car-truck accidents declined between 1 and 9 percent, and about 19 percent for head-on collisions.

It might be too soon to say exactly how much the safety features on SUVs and pickup trucks will decrease fatalities and injuries, but a nearly 50 percent drop in deaths for SUV/car side-impact crashes seems to be clear evidence that the new designs are effective in making large and small vehicles more compatible.

The 15 automakers who agreed to make changes gave themselves a deadline of 2009 to improve compatibility. Many already have instituted safer designs, but we would hope that the findings of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study would encourage those that have not done so to expedite their plans.

The changes will not impact those older vehicles already on the road, but at least now there is clear-cut evidence that making vehicles more compatible can save lives. We should not waste any time in making those changes happen.

Sharing the Road: Designers Answer Vehicle Safety Challenge

The following is an excerpt from the first in a four-part transportation design safety series

GREENVILLE, S.C., Sept. 19 /PRNewswire/ -- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration releases its latest statistics: 43,443 people were killed on streets and highways in the United States in 2005, the most since 1990, and overall fatality rate climbed for the first time in 20 years, to 1.47 deaths per 100 million miles traveled.

The World Health Organization has called road traffic deaths and injuries "a major but neglected public health challenge."

In conjunction with the World Bank, the WHO forecast that by 2020, road traffic injuries would become the third most prevalent cause of worldwide death or injury-related disability and would rank sixth among all causes of death. It is estimated that more than 1.2 million people die each year in traffic mishaps around the world.

And it's not just the people driving or riding in those vehicles who contribute to the traffic toll. Of the more than 40,000 fatalities in one recent year on American roads, 4,700 of those killed were pedestrians and another 4,100 were riding motorcycles. Some 12 percent of fatalities involved collisions between light (cars, trucks, sport utility vehicles) and large (semis, buses, etc.) vehicles.

With such statistics in mind, "Sharing the Road" was designated as the theme for the 2007 Michelin Challenge Design competition (http://www.michelinchallengedesign.com). More than 260 entries came from people in more than 50 nations for the challenge, which for this year focuses specifically on designs to enhance road safety for North America. The best of those entries will be displayed at the 2007 North American International Auto Show, January 13-21 in Detroit.

Jurors for the Michelin Challenge Design included Dr. Anthony Stein, president and technical director of Safety Research Assoc., Inc. who notes that many major technological innovations -- anti-lock brakes, vehicle stability control, energy-absorbing and deformable body structures, etc. -- have been made in recent years by the auto industry. Indeed, even though the number of passenger vehicles on the road has increased from 150 million to well over 200 million, the number of deaths on American roads has declined since it peaked at more than 50,000 people a year in the late 1970s.

"Little, big and huge vehicles, walking and riding all need to exist," said Stein. "People who can't afford to drive [including those using buses and other public transportation systems such as the rails on the roadway systems being built in several major American cities] need road safety, too."

The WHO report adds that "from a car occupant's perspective, a major problem is the mismatch in size and weight between the vehicles involved in a crash."

"In the trucking industry, safety is very important," said Ruben Perfetti, director of design for Volvo Trucks North America and a Michelin Challenge Design judge. "We are very conscious of the other people we're sharing the road with and we approach it from a global perspective."

Perfetti also noted that an emphasis on safety is one reason that commercial truck drivers undergo much more rigorous and regular testing, both in terms of medical exams and driving skills, than do the drivers of passenger cars.

Recently, transportation design department chair Steward Reed and associate chair Geoff Wardle -- both jurors for Michelin Challenge Design -- took students from the Art Center College of Design, one of the world's leading automotive design schools, to a Los Angeles area auto salvage yard.

"We want them to look at the wrecked cars in the salvage yard and think about safety issues," says Reed. "Did the doors remain secure? Was the occupant capsule violated? Was there both a primary and secondary impact?"

"We must make the roads safer for everyone," says Bob Miron, director of technical marketing for Michelin North America Inc. "We know this is a real challenge, but we are confident that technology developers, innovators and companies with a passion for safety are joining with the design community to make vehicles that are practical, beautiful and safe."

As the undisputed leader in the tire industry, Michelin (http://www.michelin.com) designs, manufactures and sells tires for every type of vehicle, including airplanes, automobiles, bicycles, earthmovers, farm equipment, heavy-duty trucks, motorcycles and the space shuttle. The company also publishes travel guides, maps and atlases covering Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. Headquartered in Greenville, S.C., Michelin North America employs 22,270 and operates 19 major manufacturing plants in 17 locations.

SOURCE Micheli

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