UNSAFE AT ANY SPEED -- THE DESIGNED-IN DANGERS OF THE AMERICAN AUTOMOBILE
Chapter 3: The Second Collision: When Man Meets Car
In the fall of 1917, two Canadian "Jennies" -- small airplanes technically known as JN-4's -- collided seven hundred feet above a small Texas airstrip. Of the four flyers who were manning the two-seated planes, the only survivor was a young air cadet named Hugh De Haven.
As he lay in the hospital recovering from serious internal injuries -- caused, paradoxically, by a poorly designed six-inch- ide seat belt with a six-inch bronze buckle -- he wondered why he had not been killed. When he recovered he inspected the wreckage of the two planes and observed that, of the four cockpits, the one in which he had been seated had remained substantially intact, while the other three bad disintegrated.
From this one man's sense of wonder evolved a major life-saving concept of the twentieth century: that the human body can withstand tremendous decelerative forces inflicted by crashes or falls. To be capable of tolerating such impacts in transport vehicles the human needed a "crashworthy" structure around him.
For the next twenty years De Haven could not find anyone who agreed with him. In this interval, while free-lancing as a successful designer of automatic equipment, he continued to press his belief that accidents can be made far safer through rational investigation of the mechanisms of injury in air crashes, many of which occurred during this period at speeds well under one hundred miles per hour. De Haven was turned away repeatedly by government and university people who called him a "crackpot." In the twenties and thirties, he recalls, "The saying used to be, 'If you want to be safe, don't fly.'"
De Havens curiosity was not dampened. He began to study cases of spectacular suicide plunges or accidental falls by people who "miraculously" survived.
A forty-two-year-old woman jumped from the sixth floor of a building and fell fifty-five feet onto fairly well-packed earth in a garden plot. The building superintendent rushed over to the victim right after she struck the ground, saw her raise herself on her elbow and remark, "Six stories and not hurt." A subsequent examination showed no evidence of material injuries or shock.
A man fell 108 feet from a tenth story window and landed on the hood and fenders of an automobile, face downward. He bounced off the car to the pavement. His chief injury was a depressed frontal fracture of the skull. He did not lose consciousness and recovered in short order.
A twenty-seven-year-old man jumped from the roof of a fourteen-story building, falling 146 feet onto the top and rear of the deck of an automobile and landing in a semi-supine position. He suffered numerous fractures· but did not lose consciousness and incurred no chest or head injuries. Two months later he was back at work.
A woman fell 144 feet from a seventeenth floor and landed on a metal ventilator box. She crushed the structure up to a depth of eighteen inches, fractured both bones of both her forearms and the bone of her left upper arm, and injured her left foot. She sat up and asked to be taken back to her room. Subsequent examination revealed no other internal injuries or fractures.
Hugh De Haven pointed out that any of the injuries suffered in these documented cases could have been the results of a five-foot fall. He saw these cases of survival as evidence that the objects and surfaces struck by the body do less damage if the forces involved are spread over time and area. This is elementary physics. A fall on a surface that "gives," such as a pile of hay, spreads the force over time. Poking someone with the end of a baseball bat instead of an ice pick spreads the force over area. Dr. Carl Clark of the Martin Company put the distinction neatly: "Damage is done not by the force, but by the distortions produced as a consequence of this force."
This relationship between the surface hit and the injury that results was recognized by Hippocrates in about 400 B.C. In his treatise on head injuries he wrote, "Of those who are wounded in the parts about the bone, or in the bone itself, by a fall, he who falls from a very high place upon a very hard and blunt object is in most danger of sustaining a fracture and contusion of the bone, and of having it depressed from its natural position; whereas he that falls upon more level ground, and upon a softer object, is likely to suffer less injury in the bone, or it may not be injured at all ..." From his own studies and these basic principles, De Haven concluded, "A person who escapes in a high speed crash, fatal to many others, owes his life to some decelerative interval and to a favorable distribution of pressure.... It is significant that crash survival without injuries in aircraft and automobiles occurs under conditions which are seemingly extreme and that fatal injuries are often sustained under moderate and controllable circumstances. It is reasonable to assume that structural provisions to reduce impact and distribute pressure can enhance survival and modify injury within wide limits in aircraft and automobile accidents."
Centuries ago, men had put these principles into practice in preparing for combat and in transporting fragile goods. They used shields and armor to dissipate force, and spears and knives to concentrate it For carrying pottery and porcelains over great distances and rugged terrains by ships and caravans, they used effective packaging techniques to avoid "crash impacts."
But something happened to men's rationality when they placed themselves in vehicles -- chariots, wagons, carriages, boats, trains, automobiles and aircraft. Death and injury from crash impacts in these carriers were called "acts of God" or "bad luck;" escape from casualties in accidents was called "a miracle." Even people whose training should have made them receptive to empirical explanations believed that forces involved in automobile or air crashes were too severe for the human body to absorb under any circumstances. So they concentrated on preventing accidents rather than on preventing injuries when accidents do occur.
The advent of World War II provided a little more receptive climate for De Haven's findings, especially as they might be applied to aircraft. With the strong backing of Dr. Eugene D. DuBois of the Cornell University Medical College, De Haven began a study of the causes of injury in aircraft accidents. He found that wounds of the heart and lungs, punctured by fractured ribs, and brain damage with and without skull fracture were prominent categories of injuries. Such injuries were sustained not just in completely disintegrated aircraft, but also in cockpits and aircraft cabins which had remained intact with little damage. De Haven called the latter kind of crashes "survivable accidents" in order to focus attention on the need for deliberate engineering for crash-survival. The first important outcome of his work was the development of improved restraining equipment to keep the pilot from striking rigid metal surfaces and instruments inside the cockpit. Aircraft manufacturers producing war planes began to pick up the safety implications of De Haven's work. Under the leadership of such dogged safety engineers as Republic Aviation's William Stieglitz and Douglas Aircraft's A. M. Mayo and John R. Poppen, fighter and light civil aircraft began to appear with more strongly moored seat structures, less lethal instrument panels, and more crash-resistant cockpit and cabin structures.
Stieglitz described the crash of a fighter airplane which went off the end of the runway at about 170 knots, flew for about 1200 feet, hit the ground, skidded for about 500 feet, and then went nose first into a six-foot earth embankment, cartwheeled, and disintegrated. The pilot crawled out by himself and rolled on the ground to put out the flames of his burning flying suit. Aside from minor burns, his total physical injury consisted of a cut on his little finger. Inspection of the wreckage showed the plane to be sheared off right down the back wall of the cockpit. But the cockpit had remained intact and the pilot, who had been restrained only by a standard lap seat belt and shoulder harness, was flying again in three months.
Dr. John Lane of the Australian Department of Civil Aviation, a pioneer in the field of crash protection, told a group of crash specialists in 1961, "We have a whole stack of thoroughly investigated accidents (involving military and light aircraft), thoroughly documented, in which the aircraft will do something like this: they will run through a power line -- a high tension line -- catch fire in the air, and impact the ground vertically at something on the order of seventy or eighty knots. The pilot will emerge from the debacle and simply go to call up and say, 'Send me a new aircraft.'"
De Haven was sure that if collision protection engineering could be so effective in aircraft design, it would also be applicable to the automobile. During the late forties, substantiation of his belief was furnished by others. A perceptive Indiana state policeman, Sergeant Elmer Paul, thought of it as the problem of the "second collision." In his analysis, most accident situations involved the impact of the vehicle with whatever it hit (the first collision), followed instantaneously by the impact of the occupants with the inside of the vehicle (the second collision). This second collision was what caused killing and maiming. To find out what objects inside the vehicle were responsible for injuries, and in what severity and frequency, Paul persuaded the Indiana authorities to establish the first systematic investigation of injury occurrence in automobiles wrecked on the state's highways. Close contact was established with De Haven's Cornell crash injury research project, which was beginning to turn its attention to automobile accident injury problems. The Cornell project unfortunately was plagued by the lack of financial support. Since it focused on vehicle design, it involved evaluating the products of Detroit, and this was dangerous territory, not trespassed for nearly half a century. But in 1951 the Air Force made a simple statistical comparison which revealed that it was losing more men-dead and injured-in automobile accidents than in combat in Korea. Other branches of the armed forces looked over their rolls and found similarly shocking comparisons. So the first grant to the Cornell project came in 1953 from the Army under the technical guidance of the Armed Forces Epidemiological Board. The initial grant was $54,000, and over the next eight years the total went up to $500,000. The Cornell group began a nationwide data-collection system about the second collision. This was achieved largely through the cooperation of about twenty states and five cities, which arranged for the dispatch of special accident reports, photographs, and medical reports showing vehicular damage, the nature and extent of injuries, and the vehicle features or components that were believed to have caused the injuries.
Military foresight made one other great contribution to crash injury research. Colonel John Paul Stapp of the United States Air Force risked his life to prove how tough the human anatomy can be in tolerating tremendous forces. True to the best heritage of his two professions, medicine and physics, Stapp devised the experimental equipment and chose himself as the guinea pig. In 1954 he culminated a series of tests begun in the late forties. Strapping himself into a giant sled powered by four solid-fuel Jato-type rocket motors and capable of supersonic speeds, he shot forward to a speed of 632 miles per hour-and stopped in 1.4 sec. at decelerations in excess of 40 g. (This means that the force on his body was equivalent to forty times his weight.) No other human being in history had "pulled down" so many "g's" voluntarily for such a period. With this historic demonstration, Stapp proved that if the human body had such tremendous tolerance for abrupt deceleration, it could also survive even the most severe vehicle collisions with little or no injury if the vehicle environment was safely designed.
During this same seminal period of the early fifties, the third phase of crash protection research was launched at the University of California at Los Angeles under the leadership of J. H. Mathewson and D. M. Severy. This involved the experimental crashing of automobiles to determine deceleration rates, vehicle damage, and the effects on instrument-laden anthropomorphic dummies strapped in the seats. In 1954 the UCLA group concluded that "there has been no significant automotive engineering contribution to the safety of motorists since about the beginning of World War II .... On the basis of mounting accident-injury data Bowing into it from areas throughout the country, the Cornell Automotive Crash Injury Research (ACIR) annual report in 1955 provided statistical confirmation: "The newer model automobiles (1950-1954) are increasing the rate of fatalities in injury-producing accidents.
Until Stapp, UCLA, and Cornell began their tests and collected data, the public had no choice but to rely upon the automobile manufacturers as its sole source of information about the second collision. The industry had the field to itself and chose to dispense no information whatever.
The opening of independent sources of information on automobile hazards and their relation to injuries inflicted by the second collision is giving this country its first detailed critical look at what happens when cars crash, and what is needed to make them crashworthy. The Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory, which became the heir to ACIR in 1961, lists three general requirements for collision protection in a vehicle: 1) a sound outer shell structure which will retain its structural integrity under impact -- and absorb as much energy as possible -- without allowing undue penetration of the striking object into the passenger compartment; 2) elimination from the interior surfaces of the shell any hard, sharp projections Or edges and the prevention of vehicle components (such as steering columns and engines) from penetrating into the compartment; also the application of energy-absorbing materials to reduce impact forces on the human body at all probable points of contact with these surfaces; and 3) provision of passenger restraint systems, not necessarily restricted to seat belt devices, to prevent or minimize relative body motion and abrupt contact with the interior of the automobile, at the same time inducing little or no physiological damage to the passenger due to the operation of these restraint systems.
These Cornell criteria might seem to be based simply on common sense, but they are formulated on the basis of over 70,000 accident cases from which the processed data (see Fig. 3) has produced a ranking of leading causes of injury-the cause in this study, being whatever particular feature or component of the vehicle inflicts the injury when the car is stopped and the occupant keeps going.
The steering assembly
'The most flagrant instrument of trauma in Cornell's automobile autopsy is the steering assembly. It caused approximately twenty per cent of the injuries in the data sample taken during the past decade. As would be expected, it is the driver who is most often injured by the steering assembly, either by being thrown forward into it or by being impaled on a ramming steering column. 'The latter kind of impact is the less common of the two but represents a disproportionate cause of serious injury. 
For years, the most common feature of crumpled automobiles has been a rearward displaced or arched steering column with broken spokes and bent wheel rims. Led by Ford, in 1956-1957 the auto makers introduced the recessed-hub steering wheel. The purpose of setting the hub below the plane of the wheel rim was to allow the rim to absorb the first force of impact before the driver struck the rigid and frequently sharp-edged hub. But Cornell follow-up data analysis, comparing the relative effectiveness of this new design and the old Hat wheel type, has shown only a "weak tendency" toward a reduction in chest injury.
Robert A. Wolf, Director of Automotive Crash Injury Research, urges the automobile designers "to turn their talents toward developing an improved form of energy-absorbing steering wheel -- something with several times the effectiveness of the present family of wheels." He has prepared sketches of various proposed wheels which would absorb energy and still protect the driver from the instrument panel and windshield. (See Fig. 4)
FIGURE 3: LEADING CAUSES OF
INJURY RANKED BY TWO METHODS: (1) NUMBER OF INJURIES FOR LEADING CAUSES
OF INJURY DISTRIBUTED BY IMPACT TYPE (DEGREE OF INJURY NOT WEIGHTED),
(2) INJURY SCORE FOR LEADING CAUSES OF INJURY WITH CONTRIBUTION BY
IMPACT TYPE (WEIGHTED INJURY, SCALE)
Wolf notes that the concept behind such shock-absorbing steering wheels has not been accepted in actual product development by automobile manufacturers. His evaluation of the reasons for this lag points to the lack of systematic search to find the best solutions. Actually, such a search needs only a management decision to go ahead. Patents that incorporated increasingly advanced energy-absorbing steering assemblies were issued to the manufacturers and other inventors beginning in the twenties. Automobile company representatives have a standard answer to, the assertion that patents exist for various safety features. It was voiced by Ford president Arjay Miller when Senators Ribicoff and Robert Kennedy pressed him at the 1965 Senate hearings to explain why a number of his company's patents of such steering assemblies, or modifications of them, still had not been incorporated into the design of Ford cars. "We have got thousands of patents in the Ford Motor Company," he said, "that are not worthy of the light of day. You patent an idea you have." Clearly, as Mr. Miller should know, a company-held patent represents a stage of knowledge concerning a useful invention. The patents, along with their predecessors, define with some precision an important safety problem in motor vehicle crashes. It would be insulting to the suppressed creativity of auto industry engineers to suggest that such technology could not have been perfected for mass produced automobiles over a decade ago. This is an area where safer alternatives are "on the shelf."
The industry's shrugging off its patent holdings in crash safety technology as just "ideas" contrasts with what their engineers write in their professional journals. In 1953, George Willits, director of General Motors' patent section, emphasized that "GM patents are distinguished from the ordinary run in that almost all of them cover practical ideas. Our inventors know the practical possibilities in the fields in which they work."
Industry reaction to findings by Cornell and others about the hazards of steering columns is revealing. Cornell's data analysis showed great differences in the frequency of steering column penetration among different types of cars. ACIR reports that "in accidents of similar severity some classes of cars are about twice as likely as others to have steering column penetration. These findings emphasize the need for drastic corrective action by the automobile industry." At one point in 1963, Mr. Wolf showed rare exasperation when he told an audience of automobile safety specialists, "There is no point in endless descriptions of the possible spectrum of engineering solutions to the problem of steering column penetration. I have no doubt whatsoever that the ingenuity of the engineers will rise to the occasion if they are given a clear directive, by management, to solve the problem."
Dr. Horace Campbell, a Denver surgeon with many articles on auto design hazards to his credit, noticed during his investigations of automobile accidents that the Corvair steering shaft was routinely driven backward and upward in even minor left front-end collisions. He noted that the steering shaft extends from a point about two inches in front of the leading surface of the front tire -- a design unique among American cars. He wrote to Harry Barr, now General Motors' vice president for engineering on October 26, 1962, inquiring about the apparent likelihood of impaling the driver on a steering shaft that takes all the impact not absorbed by the bumper and sheet metal. .Barr replied that Chevrolet had conducted tests which showed to its satisfaction that there was no problem. What kinds of tests and with what results Barr did not mention. Campbell could find no One anywhere in the country, certainly not a governmental agency, who could provide an answer to his question. Consumer Reports in April 1965 took specific note of the danger of the Corvair's steering shaft position and indicated it was trying to set up tests with Automotive Crash Injury Research to find an answer. But nothing had materialized as of August 1965. ACIR has been reluctant to disclose the make and model names of vehicle performance in data analysis of steering shaft penetration.
Dr. Campbell had a specific reason to pursue his quest for information about the Corvair shaft. On January 19, 1962, Milford Horn, a Denver engineer, driving at a slow speed, skidded in his Corvair on an icy road into the side of a slowly moving locomotive. Dr. Campbell investigated the accident and gave the following report to the Seventh Stapp Car Crash Conference in November 1963: "Horn had died instantly at the scene with a completely broken neck. The state patrolman told me to go and see the car and I would then understand why. The man's character [Horn's] was revealed on my inspection of the car. There were four seat belts; his widow told me later that every belt had to be fastened before he would start the engine. There were four electric flashing Signal lights, to be placed on the road in case a tire change became necessary.
"His car, a 1961 Corvair, was extensively damaged at the left front comer. The huh of the steering wheel was displaced, by actual measurement against another car of the same make, two feet upward and backward. It broke his neck. He had no other injuries of consequence.
"The man who towed his car in told me that in every car of this make which he brought in with left front deformation, the steering shaft is driven backward, often more than a foot."
In a final attempt at communication, in March 1965, Dr. Campbell wrote an acquaintance, Kenneth A. Stonex of General Motors, asking him to provide crash data on a question that literally was one of life and death. Mr. Stonex, General Motors' leading automotive safety engineer, wrote back that "as a longstanding policy, engineering details of General Motors developments have a degree of confidence equivalent to that between you and your patients." Then he added, as if suddenly aware of the inverted engineering ethic he had voiced, "The best I can do is refer your request to people responsible for policy for their consideration." Dr. Campbell never heard further.
In recent years the data coming to Cornell has continued to show the pre-eminent danger of the steering assembly in collisions. Since the introduction of the recessed-hub steering concept by the industry in 1956-1957, the only changes in the steering wheel's configuration appear to have been drawn from the stylist's inspiration. (See Fig. 4) Industry engineers did claim minor improvements but could not reveal even experimentally in what way these changes were safer. Certainly the Cornell data showed no supporting evidence. The most generous comment about the so-called "safety steering wheel" which a Harvard collision investigator, Murray Burnstine, could make was: "In many cases, they function only well enough to allow the motorist to die in the hospital instead of in the road."
FIGURE 4. STEERING ASSEMBLY
Some car models have two spokes on the steering wheel, others three, and while William Sherman of the Automobile Manufacturers Association, in a rare expression of his safety judgment, says that "the two spoke is per se safer than the three spoke wheel," there is no evaluation available regarding the respective designs. In addition, an alleged safety improvement frequently obscures an increased hazard -- in this case the horn ring. Mr. Burnstine's crash studies in Massachusetts led him to conclude that the horn ring is a definite injury-producing structure. "It is not capable of energy absorption," he reports, "and shatters upon impact. The resultant exposed sharp edges serve only to identify the driver." He says, "Drivers wishing to remain anonymous usually purchase the minimum-trim body style which features the less lethal horn button of thirty years ago."
In the last five years a new kind of evidence has substantiated Cornell's conclusions drawn from accident injury reports: evidence collected in the on-the-scene investigations of collisions (supported financially by the U.S. Public Health Service) by groups at Harvard Medical School and the University of Michigan Medical School. These investigative teams arranged for the police to notify them of fatal accidents in their area immediately, so that they could arrive promptly at the accident scene. The Michigan investigators, Dr. Paul Gikas and Dr. Donald Huelke, reported on their investigation of 104 accidents involving fatal injuries to 136 victims, in January 1965, before a Society of Automotive Engineers convention.
Twenty-live of the victims died from injuries sustained on the steering assembly. The report, confirming fully a finding by the Harvard team a few years earlier, concluded: "Invasion of the driver occupant area by the steering assembly is seen very often. The ramrod effect produced the majority of steering assembly deaths. Even if the driver had been restrained with a lap belt and upper torso restraint, so as not to be able to move forward and contact the steering assembly, he would have been killed anyway by the marked backward displacement of the steering column."
With such unanimous agreement over steering assembly hazards, both within and without the industry, it might have been expected that the automobile makers would have developed engineering solutions for effective energy-absorbing steering wheels and non-penetrating steering columns either separately or, even better, in combination. One reason they give for not doing so is the difficulty of designing a collapsible steering assembly that will suit both the ninety-pound woman and the two-hundred-pound man. This alleged difficulty, said to have been puzzling industry engineers for years, is never mentioned to technical audiences, which would know that solutions have been available for this difficulty over the better part of a generation.
Another excuse for inaction was given by Ford's Arjay Miller before the 1965 Senate hearings: "Common sense seems to indicate that rearward displacement of the steering column in a crash is a serious hazard to the driver. However, preliminary data suggest that there are fewer injuries when some rearward displacement occurs, because the steering wheel then serves as an additional restraining device. At present, we do not know how much rearward displacement is best."
Mr. Miller could scarcely have given a more succinct example of the industry's endless diversionary tactics when pressed for greater vehicle safety. It is not "common sense" but thousands of cases processed by Cornell and accidents investigated and documented by university teams and state troopers identify the steering column as a serious hazard. Mr. Miller neglected to specify what the "preliminary data" were, and when Senator Ribicoff gave him an opportunity to elaborate, Mr. Miller remained silent. Finally, Mr. Miller's statement that not enough is known about rearward displacement seems inconsistent with his proud exposition of Ford's pioneering and intensive collision research and development over the past fifteen years. "Preliminary data" in 1965 suggests that Ford's highly advertised collision tests at company proving grounds produced more advertising copy than data.
If Ford and the other car makers perpetuate the traditional steering wheel assembly, that assembly should be made more energy-absorptive so as to deflect under impact forces but not to allow direct body contact with the instrument panel or windshield by "giving" all the way. Mr. Miller's testimony suggested that he believed the problem to be beyond the capabilities of the world's second largest automobile manufacturer.
A significant complaint against the Ford president's position was made by Senator Robert Kennedy, who ended an exchange on steering assemblies with Mr. Miller and Ford's vice president for engineering, Herbert Misch, by saying, "Really the automobile industry has been derelict in this area. You come up here and say what we need is this kind of equipment and I ask you if you have the equipment, and you say, 'No, we do not.' You know, it does make one think that perhaps you could do better."
Miller answered simply, "Yes, sir."
Shortly afterward, Kennedy said, "It is difficult for me to understand why, after we have been talking about a collapsible steering column for ten years, knowing what the problem is, that the Ford Motor Company and the rest of the automotive industry cannot come up with the answer. If everybody wanted to come up with an answer to this problem, they could find the answer to it. Do you not agree?" Misch admitted, "Yes, sir, if the right talents are applied to it, we can get these answers."
Senator Kennedy hardly overstated it when he said, "I think that progress has been slow; it has been very, very slow, really. That is, I think, the problem."
The Instrument panel
On the Cornell list of leading causes of injury, the instrument panel stands first in frequency and second, behind the steering assembly, in seriousness of injury. This comes as no surprise to policemen and other accident investigators. The stylist who has been given great leeway to determine panel shape bas devised a great variety of designs that have managed to provide spectacular dangers. Hugh De Haven told a House of Representatives subcommittee in 1959, "It bas been my opinion for many years that we are putting into automobiles an instrument panel that has the Characteristics that are not too different, so far as the head and face are concerned, from a steel beam or an anvil." De Haven's point was amply illustrated by Dr. William Haddon of the New York Department of Health in an address before the Society of Automotive Engineers: "A friend of mine, a prominent physician who bas long served on one of the committees concerned with this area, saw not many months ago a case of a young child which lost one of its eyes because the vehicle in which it was riding decelerated unexpectedly, with the result that the child was thrown forward, as one knows happens with children riding in cars when cars, as is common, decelerate. The reason why this child lost its eye was that there was placed in the target area- -- n anticipated target area well known to all of us -- a knob. Now the eye, through evolution, or nature, or creation, as each of you will have it, has been very nicely recessed, so that in hitting Hat surfaces no damage, unless the impact is overwhelming, results. It has little chance, however, in landing on a protrusion. There was a protrusion, placed, by design, literally at the impact point at which children often hit."
What is wrong with instrument panels in a collision can be understood readily by considering what could be right with them. A reasonably safe instrument panel would not have sharp, unyielding edges, would have more and better application of padding materials or alternative absorptive surfaces, would recess knobs and controls or otherwise make them yield on impact, and would not have a protruding panel before the right front passenger area.
Beginning in 1956 the automobile makers, confronted with Cornell's statistical proof on instrument panel hazards, began to offer padding on an optional basis at extra cost. Some of this padding was no more than one-eighth of an inch thick. A Cornell study of padding effectiveness, based on accident data for model-year cars between 1956 and 1962., showed padding to be beneficial in reducing or preventing minor injuries, but making little difference in the class of accidents that resulted in fatal or serious injury. The study concluded that "More improvement will be necessary before the instrument panel will be changed from its prominent position [on the charts] associated with deaths and severe injury in automobile accidents."
Existing padding offers no protection from knobs, glove compartment doors, and sharp metal hoods projecting above various groups of instruments. Fatal injuries ranging from simple fracture of the pelvis to a crushed chest are found in the Cornell data to be the result of glove compartment doors opening on collision. Striking this compartment door even when it remains closed has resulted in serious injuries, but the protrusion of the open door is obviously a more serious hazard, and one remediable by any number of safer door or latch designs.
Even less engineering ingenuity would be required to eliminate dangerous protrusions above the instrument panel. Dr. Haddon recounts a case which he observed: "In a head-on off-center collision at relatively low speed, a practical nurse who had been driving in one of the cars was thrown diagonally across to the right and caught the front of her scalp on a small screw which was projecting perhaps only an eighth of an inch from the bracket which in that make and model holds on the sun visor. She left a piece of her scalp and her grey hair on it as it ripped her scalp almost from her hairline back to the back of her head. I think it is reasonable to say that someone placed that screw there by design not with injury production in mind, but that nevertheless its placement there undoubtedly in this case, as in probably many others, resulted in unnecessary injury."
In the other car involved in this accident, the woman riding in the right front seat was thrown diagonally across to the left behind the steering wheel and into the very sharply hooded projections above several of the instruments. She suffered serious injuries because of this impact and the localization of the forces produced by the projections. Dr. Haddon says, "'These injuries were undoubtedly much more severe than they needed to be, and they were produced in substantial part by inadequate attention to crash design."
Instrument panel design varies with manufacturers, and the variation, however influenced by annual stylistic considerations, has been found to be significant for safety. There are indications that the safety factor has been involved in some Chrysler and Studebaker designs. But at General Motors the stylist luxuriates. The Corvair instrument panel hood, for example, in the model-years 1960 to 1964, extends to the right front section solely for symmetry with the pattern in front of the driver. Dr. Horace Campbell says flatly, "'The General Motors instrument panels are the most dangerous in the world."
ACIR director Robert Wolf has offered a basic approach to instrument panel hazards. "I would like to suggest," he has said, "that the automobile designers re-examine this traditional form of configuration and ask, 'Is the instrument panel a truly functional component of the car, or is it just an accepted hangover from the good old days? What can be done to redesign it or remove it entirely in order to improve crashworthiness?"
The challenge laid down by Mr. Wolf would be a modest undertaking for a giant industry. Eliminating the center and right sections of the panel and shelf presents no engineering difficulty. The radio and glove compartment could be placed elsewhere conveniently. Mr. Wolf adds, "Were ready for a breakthrough and it would be a tragedy if the industry failed to recognize its opportunity."
But such a basic redesign is not appealing to company management, which sees little reason to eliminate a structure solely for safety purposes. Automobile industry engineers prefer to discuss the instrument panel problem on the assumption that the panel must keep its traditional configuration; on this assumption, they will gladly talk about safety -- and at needless, time-consuming length.
A recent industry position on instrument panel hazards and what to do about them provides a fine example of how sophisticated delaying and diversionary tactics can become. This position was made clear at the first specification development conference held by the General Services Administration in Washington On November 12th and 13th, 1964, to consider what safety standards the agency should establish for passenger vehicles purchased for the federal government.
GSA officials expressed their concern about several dangers of present instrument panel design. William Sherman of the Automobile Manufacturers Association raised the issue that it is necessary to determine how and where the vehicle occupant strikes the instrument panel. Ford's Robert Fredericks noted a general tendency for the body to strike downward on the top surface of the panel. Mr. Fredericks said that though the panel can be designed so that the occupant would not strike the top surface, style dictated that the "cluster hood" on the driver's side, which was necessary "to prevent reflections into the windshield from instruments and lighted controls," must be "carried in general across the car in the same general shape." Mr. Sherman broadened the dimensions of the problem. "The question here is the combination of surface structure under the surface and padding or whatever is on top of the surface and contours." In reply to an assertion by Colonel Stapp that enough is known now about the impact forces the human skull can safely absorb to give designers a basis for providing greater padding protection and diminished projections, Fredericks added to the industry's case for no action by explaining, "We know these sort of ball-park figures as to what will cause fracture, minimal concussion and things of that nature. But primarily when hitting flat surfaces. We do not know, for example, as a function of radius of curvature of a piece of sheet meta1 and padding combination what radii are tolerable and not tolerable. We know if it is a flat plate that naturally this is the best you can get."
While Fredericks and his industry colleagues were talking, a Federal Aviation Agency researcher in Oklahoma City was nearing the final phase of a project to determine the tolerances of the human face and skull of impact forces against a deforming surface. John Swearingen, a physiologist and chief of the protection and survival laboratory at the Civil Aeromedical Research Institute, concentrated on injuries to car occupants from dozens of different automobile instrument panel designs stretching back over a decade. With the rigor that has made him one of the most brilliant safety researchers in the aviation field, Swearingen studied over one hundred cases to correlate the injuries received with the forces necessary to duplicate the dents made in the particular dashboard panel. This was done in a variety of ways, but principally by the use of a small catapult with a speed capability of one hundred miles per hour. Dummies bearing instruments were shot down the track in aircraft seats with head and torso swinging forward freely to determine the force and time elements in deformation of the dashboard metal. By a meticulous process of comparing indentations with those on the panels struck by the victims, he was able to determine how much force produced how much head and facial injury. He further checked his data by using cadavers and measuring the results of forty-five head impacts against panels.
Swearingen's conclusions showed that under conditions easily within engineering accomplishment, the human head could take much greater impacts than previously thought possible. These conditions are two: proper padding to distribute the load over the facial area and the proper resilience in the metal underneath to dissipate the impact energy. With such a "transportation environment," as Swearingen terms it, "we should be able to eliminate hundreds of thousands of facial injuries." But with contemporary panel design, even forces generated by five-mile-an-hour impacts can be fatal, says Swearingen. With proper design, a person could hit his head on a panel at forty feet per second with no injuries at all, while presently people are dying from impacts at fifteen feet per second. Even a two-"g" impact on a sharp knob or metal projection such as the comer of a glove compartment door or the compartment latch could be fatal. Such pressure points can concentrate force into thousands of pounds per square inch.
Swearingen believes that the importance of the dashboard panel will increase as lap-type seat belts come into greater use. Passengers who would ordinarily have been hurled through the windshield would, when belted, be more likely to strike the panel. His tests indicate that the auto makers remain indifferent. Despite all the notice of panel hazard and despite explicit recognition of the problem by their safety engineers, the corporate decision-makers chose instrument panels for the 1965 models that were the most hazardous investigated by Swearingen. His instruments showed the highest "g" forces generated were those by impacts on several 1965 instrument panels.
Swearingen says the padding that has gone on autos in this decade has made very little difference in the safety the motorist gets. He concurs with Cornell's finding that the protection is primarily in the very low impacts; but he adds to it a more ominous finding: that "adding a padded lip to some panels has actually about doubled the hazard by using heavy reinforced channel iron to attach the pad." Other panels have a heavy brace beneath the metal which raises the "g" force to as much as one hundred. The so-called padded dash-provided only at extra cost-was offering, in some ways, pressure points far exceeding the unpadded dashboard designs.
The outcome of Swearingen's study was a specific list of design standards for the dashboard panel that will protect the knees and legs as well as the head:
Swearingen has systematic data on the maximum tolerable impact forces which the various portions of the face and head can absorb when striking a padded deformable surface. His is the first published study on the subject. Though later research may refine his recommendations, they answer a good many questions for industry engineers. The automobile makers have shown no reaction publicly to Swearingen's data, which they had told the General Services Administration were so badly needed, and which they had supposedly been working so long to obtain. Their position concerning the GSA deliberation over instrument panel standards remained the same after the Swearingen data were released in March, 1965, as it was at the November 1964 meeting. (See Fig. 5)
Swearingen's project -- including salaries, materials, and equipment -- cost an estimated $25,000. It was the first of its kind, and it was instituted and supported by a governmental aviation safety research facility -- not by the twenty-five- billion-dollar automobile industry.
The windshield ranks third in frequency and fourth in severity as a cause of injuries in automobile accidents. The Cornell study shows that 11.3 per cent of all people injured in automobile accidents were hurt by windshield glass. Of this class of injuries, almost ninety per cent are injuries to the head, with neck injuries being rarer but usually more severe. Less severe windshield glass injuries often cause permanent facial disfigurement with psychological consequences that have not been coded in the data-processing machines.
FIGURE 5. ELIMINATION OF INSTRUMENT PANEL AT RIGHT FRONT POSITION
In order to minimize injury, a windshield that is struck by a vehicle occupant must have two important qualities: it must not be so hard that the head snaps back with a concussion or fracture, nor must it yield so easily that the blow breaks it, with resultant hideous lacerations. All American automobiles use laminated glass (a plastic core with glass bonded to it) in contrast to tempered glass (solid glass, heat treated) employed on some European vehicles. The principal experimental research on windshield safety is being conducted at Wayne State University in Detroit and at the University of California at Los Angeles's Institute of Transportation and Traffic Engineering. The conflict over laminated versus tempered glass that rages between commercial groups here and in Europe has not yet been resolved by either of these projects, and a Cornell data analysis released in December 1964 does not indicate any significant differences in injuries from the two types of glass. Since all American cars use laminated glass, the bulk of the injury experience and consequently research attention bas been with that type. Dr. Allan Nahum of UCLA points out that the laminated windshield hinges open to let the head through but closes like a razor-sharp jaw on the driver's head and face when his own weight pulls him back inside the car when the vehicle bas come to a stop. It is this kind of injury that produces the severe and often fatal neck injuries. Evidence from dozens of crash tests using cadavers at Wayne State's department of engineering mechanics bas shown the need for increased resistance to penetration, while at the same time retaining or increasing the yielding characteristics of the glass that are associated with a reduction in concussions.
According to the Cornell study, in cases where the windshield was struck, the severity of the injuries increased sharply with the severity of the damage to the glass. When the glass remains intact, injuries are generally mild. Injuries are twice as severe when the glass is "web-cracked," and twice as severe again when the glass is "web-broken" -- using a rough index of progression.
Before the Senate traffic safety hearings in July 1965, General Motors took the occasion to announce that "an intensive research and development program" in this area, launched in 1962 with the cooperation of other automobile companies, had proved that a thicker layer of laminate between the glass would reduce the severity of head lacerations. (Actually, the major research and development work was done by the glass suppliers.) The Cornell data pointing to windshield hazards, alluded to by General Motors in the testimony as a motivating factor for developing safer glass, was first released in 1955. General Motors representatives told the Senators that "the result of this work is a new windshield glass which nearly doubles occupant-penetration protection." All companies introduced this windshield for their 1966 models.
There was one gap, however, in General Motors' testimony about safety and windshields; namely, that numerous Wayne State laboratory crash tests showed penetration to have occurred in the standard windshields at vehicle speeds down to approximately 12.5 miles per hour. The new windshields, according to this finding, would prevent penetration up to 24 mph. It is not likely that many motorists were aware that the "safety glass" they have been looking through for years could take no more than a 12.5-miles-per-hour impact without threatening the victim with a jagged glass collar. This is not the sort of finding about its automobiles that the industry reveals to the public; nor have car buyers a legally protected right to obtain such critical information.
There is one point on which all specialists concur. The best way to avoid windshield injury is to avoid striking the windshield. At the present time the only available means of passenger restraint is the seat belt. In its way the history of this device tells the engineering and political story of the second collision better than any other vehicle feature.
Early in his search for greater automobile safety, Hugh De Haven asked, "Can people be packaged for transport in a manner assuring a better degree of protection against injury and death than is provided by our present vehicles of transportation?" One of the cardinal principles in "packaging" the passenger is that he be firmly but comfortably anchored, so as not to be thrown against the inside of the vehicle or ejected through it.
Seat belts were adopted for airplanes in the early years of aviation just before World War I, when staying in his craft was one of the pilot's biggest challenges. Turbulent air currents or acrobatic maneuvers could easily throw the pilot from an open-cockpit plane; in one instance a pilot named Lieutenant Towers, later to be a Navy admiral, lost control of his airplane and was hurled from his seat. With luck and agility, he managed to grab hold of part of the plane as be plummeted downward, and he hung on until it crashed.
By the late twenties federal regulations required seat belts installed and worn on all civilian passenger aircraft. With advancing airplane design, it was recognized that such restraints protected occupants from injury in the event of a crash, a sudden stop on land, or a sudden drop in the air.
The transfer of safety knowledge and attitudes from airplanes to automobiles lagged greatly then, as it has ever since. In the thirties and early forties racing drivers rarely used seat belts; the man who did was considered to lack courage. But the work of De Haven at Cornell and the work of Colonel Stapp and his associates changed that attitude: racing associations began to require racing drivers to wear seat belts in the late forties and early fifties. A growing number of physicians, sickened at the sight of highway victims, began writing detailed descriptions for medical journals of injuries that were related to the lack of seat belts.
In 1954 and 1955 Cornell released data showing that ejection from the vehicle accounted for about twenty-live per cent of serious and fatal injuries. The risk of fatal injury was increased fivefold if the occupant was thrown from the car in car crashes. In addition, automobile crash testing done in 1951 by the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory's collision researcher, Edward Dye (with the support of the Liberty Mutual Insurance Company), recorded the extraordinary path of motion the human body took even at low impact speeds. One set of slides showed a dummy the size and weight of a six-year-old child in the back seat of a vehicle that was crashed at twenty miles an hour. At .30 seconds, the dummy hit the back of the seat, and at .53 seconds it struck the windshield and again bounced back into the rear seat. The industry finally showed a reaction to these findings. Chrysler and Ford announced in the late summer of 1955 that they would make seat belts available to car buyers as an optional extra -- at extra cost. It was not until January 1964 that the auto-industry, prodded by legislation and overwhelming public pressure, accepted the proposition that seat belts should be standard equipment with all new cars.
General Motors played the central role in this delay. The company's chief spokesmen on the issue were engineering vice president Charles Chayne and vehicle safety engineer Howard Gandelot. Mr. Chayne publicly stated that he thought seat belts offered little promise, and that General Motors did not plan to provide them. Mr. Gandelot constructed his opposition around two themes: (1) "There is not sufficient factual information on the protective value of seat belts in automobiles to form any definite conclusions" and, (2) "There is little interest on the part of the motoring public in actual use of seat belts."
He was particularly resourceful in giving what he thought were valid illustrations. One of his favorites was the experience of Nash Motors which offered a "seat belt" with its optional reclining seat for the Statesman and Ambassador models. Nash provided about fifty thousand of these reclining seats and found customers -- as the story goes -- so little interested in this so-called seat belt that it was dropped before the end of the 1950-model run. The Nash experience has been cited in one context or another by every automobile manufacturer up to the present day as proof of how little public interest there is in seat belts. The present president of American Motors, Roy Abernethy, remarked in July 1965, "We were the first company -- in 1949 -- to attempt to make seat belts standard. We ran into so much apathy-and actual resistance-that we were forced to drop the feature."
Some facts seem continually to be obscured in the industry's interpretation. Nash provided a belt to hold a reclining passenger in place against the shifting and stopping that would ordinarily be experienced in a moving car. Billboards showed a grandmother sleeping peacefully, held snugly by the belt. It was not constructed, offered or advertised as a belt for collision protection. What are now known as seat belts were not offered by American Motors until the mid-fifties. This reclining-seat "seat belt" was not emphasized in Nash's promotion of the reclining seat option; in fact the belt was completely hidden underneath the seat, and many customers did not even know it was there. There was nothing in the owner's manual about the belt. Nash dropped the feature because it considered it a needless expense. As Ralph Isbrandt, vice president of American Motors, told the Roberts' House subcommittee on Traffic Safety in a 1957 hearing on seat belts, "As we gained experience with the reclining seat, it appeared that this feature actually did not create an increased need for a restraining device."
Gandelot gave further "evidence" of "public apathy" in the small number of letters which General Motors had received from the public about seat belts. He recounted how the seat belts and shoulder harnesses he had tested restricted his ability to reach some of the vehicle controls, rumpled his suit, and gave him aches. He denounced those who were pushing for seat belts as people motivated by "the profit angle."
The arguments General Motors adduced in its opposition to seat belts are less important than the reason for such arguments. The reason is simple: the seat belt is a constant reminder to the motorist of the risk of accident. The seat belt is an emphatic reminder of the second collision, an item that alerts people to expect more safety in the cars they buy. General Motors has never viewed these as desirable expectations to elicit from its customers.
Gandelot and his superior at General Motors, Chayne, watched with skepticism Ford's advertising campaign promoting seat belts as an option for its 1956 models. The public's response to the campaign brought a demand for more seat belts than the company could provide at first. Between September 1955 and January 1956, many Ford purchasers who wanted seat belts could not get them and had to accept delivery of their cars without the belts. Robert McNamara, then vice president of the Ford division, reported in February 1957 that "more than 400,000 seat belts have been sold by Ford since we introduced them," and that no other optional feature "ever caught on so fast."
General Motors was not impressed. About this time, GM's president, Harlow Curtice, had a sharp exchange with Charles Shuman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, at a meeting of the President's Committee for Traffic Safety. Shuman wanted to know why the automobile industry as a whole was not offering seat belts as standard equipment. Curtice told him that the idea was impractical and inadvisable.
The Roberts hearings in 1957 brought together expert testimony about the desirability of seat belts as shown in experimental work and accident experience. On the basis of the hearings record, Roberts' special subcommittee on traffic safety concluded that "seat belts, properly manufactured and properly installed, are a valuable safety device, and careful consideration for their use should be given by the motoring public." Charles Chayne appeared at these hearings to repeat the circular argument about the lack of public acceptance or demand for seat belts as a reason for not promoting them.
Gandelot, who was continually called upon to express the General Motors view on the seat belt issue, once told an inquirer, "I delight in living my life each day, realizing that the information I give out is extremely factual." Such a sentiment cannot be faulted; the only difficulty was that GM's chief safety engineer never had any information to give out. While demanding more proof about the value of seat belts, he responded to requests for substantiating his skepticism with answers like this one, made in 1955: "While we certainly have a lot of engineering record films of barrier impact crashes, both normal and high speed, and quite a few simulated impact tests made with a new and very controllable apparatus which we designed and built some time ago, this is all under the classification of engineering data and not for public distribution," He chided his critics in the medical profession by contrasting their lack of knowledge about the seat belt issue with his own "factual view of things," which took into account "only those opinions which have been established on a basis of facts." Yet Gandelot never felt the need to justify the safety of existing vehicle design, however stringent were his standards for those who suggested improvements. In 1954, he offered this astonishing judgment to a physician who was pressing him on the seat belt matter: "Until we have substantially more information I find it difficult to believe that the seat belt can afford the driver any great amount of protection over and above that which is available to him through the medium of the safety-type steering wheel if he has his hands on the wheel and grips the rim sufficiently tight to take advantage of its energy absorption properties and also takes advantage of the shock absorbing action which can be achieved by correct positioning of the feet and legs." A few weeks later he wrote to the same physician, saying that there was very little data available about the effect of seat belts at higher deceleration rates and force values. "This makes me wonder," he wrote, "if, in the public interest, the industry should undertake a fact-finding program. Considering the quantity and type of instrumentation, the anthropomorphic dummies, vehicles and technical personnel required, it would be my guess that such a program would cost upwards of 100 thousand dollars." Gandelot appeared to be turning a long overdue duty of the industry into an act of charity,
General Motors was understandably concerned about the consequences of overt emphasis on safety features as a competitive practice in selling cars. Such an emphasis could only serve to focus public attention on the role of vehicle design in causing injuries during the second collision. Claims by one company that its cars are safer would quicken the interest of federal officials in asking, "How safe is 'safe'?" They might propose that automobiles meet federal safety standards just as trains, ships, and aircraft have been required to do for decades.
It seemed particularly Significant that less than a year after Ford began an unprecedented campaign advertising its "Life Guard Design" ("safety door locks," "safety steering wheels," "safety rear view mirror" as standard equipment, and "crash pads" for instrument panels and seat belts as options) that the Roberts committee opened on July 16, 1956, the first hearings on traffic safety in the history of the United States Congress.
Ford terminated its safety campaign in the spring of 1956 after an internal policy struggle won by those who agreed with the General Motors analysis of the probable unsettling consequences of a vehicle safety campaign. The 1956 Ford finished second to Chevrolet in sales, but its failure to be Dumber one had nothing to do with the Ford safety campaign.  Even so, it has since been cited to prove that ·safety doesn't sell." Working through the Automobile Manufacturers Association and other industry-constituted committees, General Motors found its views accepted by other domestic automobile makers. Vehicle safety became an industry-wide policy matter rather than an individual company matter.
After 1956, industry seat belt policy entered a period where belts were offered as an extra-cost option but were not widely promoted. While saturation advertising and continual repetition of the sales message are deemed necessary to sell automobiles, seat belts were left to win customers without such communication. The manufacturers then seemed mystified because more car buyers did. not demand this option. Chevrolet general manager Edward Cole said in 1959, "One of the startling problems so far as crash injury is concerned is the utter refusal on the part of the American motorists to be strapped into a seat by a safety belt or a shoulder harness. We have made provision in our cars to attach seat belts properly and we have made seat belts and shoulder harnesses available to our dealers. The fact of the matter is that the sale of these safety features is practically nil, indicating a real disinterest on the part of the public in their own safety."
Before Mr. Cole wrote these words, he might have found that Chevrolets, along with other General Motors cars, presented great obstacles to "attaching seat belts properly." In 1961, C. M. Olsen of the American Society of Safety Engineers commented on the unique problems of installing seat belts on General Motors models of the late fifties: "All four-door GM cars are exceedingly difficult in which to make front seat installations. Removing the sharp wire clips deep down in the front seat construction is a strenuous task -- and somewhat like gynecological surgery in the dark -- but has to be done to insure that the belt is not abraded or cut where the user cannot see the damage being done." Mr. Cole had not explained how shoulder harnesses could be installed in the "hardtop" models featuring doors without a pillar to anchor the harness on, and Olsen offered an obvious insight: "I feel that people will otherwise [in cars without pillars] be reluctant to attempt such a difficult do-it-yourself job, or to slit new car upholstery to get the belts through, or pay the price of having it done properly so the belts will not be damaged in use."
Although they had a long record of success 1n creating a public demand for even the most superficial automotive features, the manufacturers lamented the absence of demand for seat belts while they made it difficult for such a demand ever to materialize. Paul Ackerman, engineering vice president of Chrysler Corporation, said to the Roberts subcommittee in a 1959 hearing, "In considering the question as to whether or not we should provide med and permanent attachments for safety belts, 1 intended to explain that many people have very definite objections to the installation of belts in their cars." John Moore, former director of the Cornell project, provided the answer. "No safety device can be used by the public unless it is first made available to the public."
The first step in the drive for availability was to make seat belts standard equipment on all automobiles. The initiative was taken by the New York State joint legislative committee on motor vehicles and traffic safety under the chairmanship of Senator Edward Speno. The committee decided in 1959 that seat belts must come as "standard factory-installed equipment, just as hydraulic brakes and sealed beam headlights." The following year the committee said, "It is the Committee's opinion that the auto manufacturers will not -- now or in the foreseeable future -- install seat belts as standard equipment in all cars unless forced to do so." The Speno committee then gave the automobile makers an opportunity to disprove its prediction. During the 1960 legislative sessions, automobile industry lobbyists defeated a bill requiring seat belts on all new cars sold in New York.
The following year, Senator Speno decided upon a strategy that would show the absurdity of the industry's position. He filed a bill to require new cars to have anchorage units for belts to facilitate and reduce the cost of installation. These anchorage units were merely threaded holes through the car floor, supported by steel plates which could be punched out during fabrication at no added cost to the car buyer. (At that time, a pair of seat belts cost between thirty and thirty-five dollars, plus about fifteen dollars for the mechanic's work in installing them.) The automobile manufacturers resisted. Speno and a group of legislators and administrators went to Detroit to confront company officials directly. The industry must have thought this was a routine Visit by a legislative committee; the Visitors got the routine tour of company plants in a special bus equipped with a loudspeaker and were given a show of crashing a few castoff vehicles with dummies. The usual points were made by the car makers: if New York passed one statute and other states passed conflicting ones, it would make it impossible for the manufacturers to comply; it is sometimes safer to be ejected from a vehicle than to remain inside; it would cost the consumer more; seat belts would hurt automobile sales. General Motors' Charles Chayne told Senator Speno that car safety is best decided by car makers. "A lot of people come here with ideas," he said. "Roberts came here. Ribicoff came here. They went away."
Speno was not impressed. At a dinner for the visiting committee in the Detroit Athletic Club, he told a group of industry vice presidents that the "comfortable delusion of safety the public gets in your cars is in sharp contrast to the broken bodies these cars cause. You've been showing me the ballpark, gentlemen, but you're not talking to me. I hope you will put in the anchorage units. It will cost you almost nothing. But whether you do or not, we're going to legislate it." He asked for a meeting at four P.M. the following day and indicated that he expected a formal reply. The next morning Mark Bauer of the Automobile Manufacturers Association informed Speno that the industry would provide anchorage units in all 1962 models, but they would like to restrict them to the front seat since such a small proportion of people killed are back seat riders. Speno reluctantly made the concession. It was agreed explicitly that following the afternoon meeting there would be a joint announcement. Bauer told Speno that the industry wanted no public release before the meeting. But early that afternoon, four of the automobile companies sent out press releases announcing that they would provide anchorage units in the coming model year. The industry had avoided the joint announcement and preserved the carefully nurtured fiction that all safety advances are made voluntarily.
Speno went back to Albany and sponsored legislation requiring anchorage units on cars to make sure that there would be no reversal by the automobile manufacturers in the future. The manufacturers opposed the bill, but it was passed. Other states followed New York's example. In 1963 New York, impressed by a Wisconsin law enacted in 1961, passed legislation requiring front. seat belts beginning with all 1965 model cars sold in New York. By this time, the automobile companies, prodded by legislation, were cooperating with the U.S. Public Health Service and voluntary agencies in promoting seat belts. Many government agencies and commercial fleets had installed belts. But the automobile makers were still opposed to standard installation.
The first break in this opposition came from a smaller manufacturer. Early in 1963, Sherwood Egbert, president of Studebaker, announced that his company would install front seat belts on all cars manufactured after February 15, 1963, and contributed this heretical statement: "It is our feeling -- a strong feeling -- that safety measures in motor cars should not come by petition from motorists but that automobile manufacturers should lead in safety equipment."
Under pressure from Speno to begin standard installation before the New York law's effective date of June 30, 1964, the automobile companies finally agreed. In August 1963, they announced that, effective January 1, 1964, they would make front seat belts standard on 1964 passenger cars with list prices adjusted to include the additional cost. Each company alluded to its longstanding interest in safety and seat belts and its gratification for the increasing public acceptance which made such an announcement possible.
Thus the industry rounded out a decade of strenuous opposition before its cars were equipped with a primitive passenger restraint device as standard equipment. The seat belt should have been introduced in the twenties and rendered obsolete by the early fifties, for it is only the first step toward a more rational passenger restraint system which modern technology could develop and perfect for mass production. Such a system ideally would not rely on the active participation of the passenger to take effect; it would be the superior passive safety design which would come into use only when needed, and without active participation of the occupant. It would eliminate the "acceleration overshoot" characteristic of conventional seat belts, which do not prevent the passenger from striking his head or his upper body or both on the corner post, instrument panel, windshield, or header strip. It would also eliminate the "bottoming effect" or the passenger's sliding under, and the backlash or rebound effects.
Protection like this could be achieved by a kind of inflatable air bag restraint which would be actuated to envelop a passenger before a crash. Such a system has been recently experimented with for airplane passenger protection. Both General Motors and Ford did work on a system like this about 1958 but dropped tile inquiry and now refuse even to communicate with outside scientists and engineers interested in this approach to injury prevention. There are a number of general energy-absorption systems that engineering ingenuity could devise to operate either inside or outside tile vehicle.
It has long been recognized that a combination lap belt and shoulder harness -- called the three-point belt -- is more effective than the simple lap belt. It prevents forward jack-knifing and provides lateral restraint against side impacts. Cornell analyzed data from California accident reports and found that simple lap seat belts were quite effective in controlling passenger ejection, reducing dangerous and fatal injury by thirty-five per cent or more. But later data on front seat-belted passengers, released in a 1963 Cornell report, found that in head-on collisions, when passengers stay in the car, there seems to be little difference in injury between those who wore seat belts and unbelted occupants. Cornell added that "the problem is not that the seat belt is a failure but that the front compartment -- the dash panel and steering assembly -- is not providing forward clearance for the head, knees, and torso, so that the body can jack-knife without interference."
The installation of the three-point belt is now being pressed by crash research specialists outside the industry as the second stage in passenger restraint development. This belt presents complications that the automobile makers would like to avoid. Cornell's Robert Wolf told the annual convention of the American Automobile Association in September 1964 what the difficulty is: "Installing a shoulder harness, however, in one's own car is an extremely discouraging project, much like that of trying to fit a homemade seat belt installation ten years ago. The problem is first to find a structurally sound anchor point for the shoulder strap and in a position where the strap doesn't slip off of the shoulder. To make a good anchor point usually requires a good mechanic with a good engineering sense. The chances of early large-scale adaptation to all types of American cars by the simple expedient of the Industry's providing standard shoulder strap anchor points, as was the case for seat belts, seems remote to me because of the difficulty of providing a structurally sound attachment point on hardtops and convertibles, which have no center post to the roof."
Hardtops and convertibles have been gaining rapidly in the percentage of total car sales, reaching almost fifty per cent in 1964. Even the recent sedan models with center posts present formidable difficulties In attaching the upper anchor of the harness and, when installed, give no assurance that they are strong enough to take the pull. Because the manufacturers are on the defensive they take the hard line. Once again, their rationale is based on unspecified tests of only one of the several kinds of possible shoulder harnesses. General Motors president James Roche delivered a statement to the Ribicoff Senate subcommittee in July 1965. He said, "At this time, our plans do not Include the Installation of anchorages for shoulder harnesses. We have con ducted extensive tests and studies of this device. Some of these tests have indicated that In a severe impact situation, shoulder harnesses can do more harm than good. While the harness does restrain the car occupant's forward motion, it also can deflect the impact force into a downward motion, forcing the occupant farther under the seat belt. This downward force can result in highly injurious pressures on the abdominal area. A shoulder harness also can exert dangerous pressure on the occupant's neck, particularly in the case of a relatively high-speed side impact."
It is obvious that poorly designed shoulder harnesses, inappropriately anchored, might result In some Injuries at the same time that others were prevented. But it is just as obvious that good design and Installation at proper anchorage points can avoid these small risks. Crash studies and accident analysis of the effect of these harnesses In England and Sweden, where they are in more widespread use, have shown results highly in their favor.
At the eighth Stapp Car Crash Conference, held In Detroit in October 1964, all the automobile companies had representatives present. None denied the superiority of shoulder harnesses over lap belts. Several, especially Chrysler's Roy Haeusler, actively advocated the use of harnesses. Dr. Paul Joliet, chief of the U.S. Public Health Service's division of accident prevention, has urged that shoulder harnesses be made standard equipment on new cars.
But the lack of an adequate center post, or any center post at all, on most models remains a problem. The search for making the seat belt more effective leads, as General Motors accurately foresaw years ago, to probes of other design inadequacies. In this case, the focus is on the seat Structure. Seats that tear away from their moorings and add unbearable "g" forces to a passenger already hurtling forward are one of the most common design failures recorded by crash investigators. The General Motors Engineering Journal May-June 1955 reported that for a GM seat to be considered satisfactory, it had to withstand a load of one thousand pounds. This means that two 150-pound persons sitting in the rear seats and striking the back of the front seat at only a 3-1/2 "g" force (or any combination thereof) would dislodge the seat from its moorings. In recent years, seats have been a little more firmly anchored, but the problem remains. Medical investigators reported a case in which a 195-pound football player, seated in the back seat of a car involved in an accident, was thrown against the back of the front seat, pushing it forward and crushing to death a front- seat passenger.
In March 1965, Product Engineering reported the development of an integrated seat by an automobile company supplier: "Current seat belt anchoring hooks the belt to bolts in the car floor; the new system anchors the seat, then attaches the belts to the seat. And that's the safety feature; positive seat anchoring should prevent the seat from being tom loose during a crash. The seat is designed to accommodate a retractable harness system and headrests (to prevent the head from snapping back on rear end collisions). It can be added to existing cars or incorporated as original equipment at little or no extra cost, according to the manufacturer, which presented prototypes to all the domestic car producers."
What is important in this example, as in other examples of automobile safety features, is not the particular design, but the performance function which is ignored by contemporary automobiles. UCLA's Derwyn Severy has pointedly criticized the industry at technical meetings for not designing a seat that will prevent the neck or spinal injury of the common rear- end collision. "It is the one most easily corrected by design and the one given least attention after perhaps the steering wheel and shaft," he said in 1964. Yet university crash injury researchers have not succeeded in getting industry specialists to discuss this problem in open forum on a high technical level. It is the most neglected aspect of passenger restraint.
Seat belts are now standard equipment and their installed cost to the car buyer is about one third of what they cost five years ago. Nearly thirty per cent of all automobiles on the road are equipped with seat belts, and the number of motorists using them is steadily increasing. The growth of habitual seat belt usage will accelerate now that the seat belt bas been removed from its place as the ugly duckling of the automobile world's vast array of optional equipment and gingerbread.
The passenger compartment
In a collision, an automobile passenger can be adequately restrained and still be injured or killed if another vehicle, a tree, an abutment, or any other striking object invades the passenger compartment. Nearly a third of all injury-producing accidents involve either roof impact caused by a car rolling over or penetration of the side wall of the vehicle cabin.
The two elements of the car's structure most directly involved in sum accidents are the chassis frame and the body frame. The purpose of the chassis frame is to give proper support for the body and chassis components. The body frame, which has been welded or joined with bolts to the chassis frame, is the other load-bearing structure in the car.
It is also a function of the car's body structure and frame to absorb collision energy and maintain what collision specialists call the "structural integrity of the outer shell whim surrounds the restrained passenger." But when it comes to design and manufacture for such performance in collisions, the automobile industry has either ignored the statistical evidence of the problem or is deliberately withholding knowledge about it. Despite the reports of Cornell's Automotive Crash Injury Research project and other crash injury research groups on the significant role of car frames and bodies in side-impact crashes, there is not a single discussion of the subject to be found in the technical literature produced by the industry's engineers and stylists. There is neither published evidence nor claims by the companies to any proving-ground tests of direct side-impact crashes involving the passenger compartment. Nor is there in the technical literature any attempt to establish load criteria, to evaluate existing frame types, or to study the relative adequacy of proposed alternatives. In this critical area of automotive engineering there is instead almost total confusion -- leaving the consumer helpless to make any meaningful distinctions about the relative safety of the various types of body structures and frames employed.
A case in point is the "X" or "cruciform" type chassis frame. This frame was introduced in '957, primarily to reduce the problem of restricted headroom and difficult entry into the "low-profile" automobiles that were becoming popular after the mid-fifties. The X frame construction does not have side rails along the passenger compartment, as did most previous conventional frame designs. From the time the cruciform type frame was introduced, it was widely used by General Motors on Chevrolet, Buick, and Cadillac. The Ford Motor Company continued to use frames with side rails, and it was evident that the two companies held strongly different opinions about the two designs.
In the fall of 1959, a photograph of a Chevrolet Impala that was broken in half after striking a tree broadside was widely circulated in newspapers throughout the country. The frame had severed at the intersection of the X. The report of the General Motors investigators who rushed to the scene attributed the severance of the frame to the semi-airborne position of the car as it struck the tree. This had apparently allowed the engine mass to act as the head of a sledge hammer. At the General Motors engineering center in Michigan the conclusion was that "automobiles are not designed to withstand sum tremendous lateral forces -this would be extremely uneconomical."
General Motors spokesmen continued to defend the cruciform type frame as offering substantial resistance to side impacts because of the rocker panel and floor pan underbracing members -- even though by 1965 all General Motors models except the Buick Riviera had abandoned the design in favor of the perimeter type. In 1960 the General Motors technical center offered proof that a unitized structure with side rails can also split into two pieces. A picture of a Ford Thunderbird, torn in half after slamming against a telephone pole and tree, was offered as evidence to critics of the X type frame.
This comparison enraged Ford engineers. Fletcher N. Platt, a highly talented research engineer at Ford, retorted that the Thunderbird case involved a telephone guy-wire that had "acted as a knife on the entire body structure." In contrast, he said, "the Chevrolet that broke in half failed at the center of the X frame after hitting a tree." Platt said, "The X frame has no advantages from the standpoint of passenger protection. It requires less material to support the four comers of the car, but it is obviously less rigid and provides little lateral [side] protection to the passenger compartment." He suggests consulting any "'unbiased' structural engineer regarding these two designs." Mr. Platt might not consider Mr. Harry Barr, vice president for engineering of General Motors, qualified for the designation 'unbiased,' but Mr. Barr did admit grudgingly, under questioning, that the Oldsmobile perimeter type frame had some advantages over the Chevrolet X type frame in side-impact crashes at speeds of about fifteen miles per hour. Further proof that some General Motors engineers agreed with Ford's Platt came in the form of an internal memorandum prepared by the Oldsmobile division in 1963 in whim the Oldsmobile "guard-beam" frame was described as offering an "extra margin of protection" over the X type frames of Chevrolet, Buick, and Cadillac.
The manufacturers may disagree about the relative effectiveness of different kinds of body frames, but they say little or nothing about the comparative safety of the conventional sedan and the so-called hard-top models.
In the hard-top models there is no center door pillar from the window sill upward and no upper half of the door frame. The same is true of convertible models, but at least the customer is on obvious notice when he buys a convertible, while the hard-top resembles the conventional sedan in the apparent security of the enclosure.
One danger in the hard-top model was cited by Robert Wolf of ACIR, who said, "It is quite common in a side impact of a four-door hardtop car for the center post to tear out at the floor attachment joint, where the post is loaded severely in bending. These posts are probably not designed to withstand a severe crash load -- they are there for other purposes."
Still another hazard is the dangerous consequence of a "rollover" in a hard-top model. Without the upper center post to support the roof structure, the hard-top offers less protection to its occupants than does the conventional sedan. In many accidents involving roll-overs, the hard-top has been described as having "crumpled like a Japanese lantern." One official of the Fisher Body Corporation said of General Motors bard-tops that they were "on the borderline." But who knows what the borderline is?
If the companies insist on pillarless construction, there are various engineering approaches that can strengthen the crash resistance of their cars. The manufacturers themselves have patented practical kinds of latch and reinforcing member arrangements which lock the side of the vehicle into an integral unity by the use of multiple latch locations. Nothing has been done to apply these patents to current automobile production.
Likewise, the provision of roll bars to protect against the impact of a roll-over is another possible improvement that is viewed negatively by the industry. Many physicians with an interest in automobile races have been impressed with the protection given drivers by roll bars or equivalent reinforcement when their vehicles go through spectacular accidents, sometimes flipping over and over for hundreds of feet. Dr. John States, president of the American Association for Automotive Medicine, has urged the automobile makers to incorporate roll bars in their designs. But such a safety feature would apparently inconvenience the designers of hard-tops and, even in sedans with upper center posts, would involve changes which are abhorrent to the cost analysts and stylists.
In the whole area of reinforced and strengthened body and chassis structures, the industry has steadfastly avoided testing, research, and change for safety. While gearing its public relations to stories of vehicles crashing at proving grounds, it continues to ignore the work of the men who have done the necessary studies. One such man, James J. Ryan, a recently retired professor of engineering at the University of Minnesota, has done extensive car collision experiments. Just one of his findings suggests the direction the car makers could follow. Mr. Ryan said recently, "From our tests we have determined means of strengthening the structure of the vehicle to prevent displacement of the walls, the door, and the posts and the penetration of the driver's compartment. The forces of impact could be reduced four times by the proper construction of any vehicle without increasing its cost or weight."
It has become evident that the Cornell data playa central role in any discussion of the second collision. After half a century of automobile usage, a staff of only nine people began, with federal support, the first statistical reporting system on how interior car designs injure and kill motorists. The time for analyzing the design of automobiles had come, and the crucial distinction between the causes of accidents and the causes of injury was shown with unmistakable clarity. The driver could no longer be the scapegoat for industry negligence in the design of their vehicles. From the day De Havens group began work in 1952, segments of the automobile industry suspected that things might never be the same again if they remained aloof from Cornell's probings.
Two events in 1955 moved the industry to act. The U. S. Public Health Service joined the Department of the Army in support of Cornell's Automotive Crash Injury Research (ACIR), thus assuring continuity and growth to the project. Early in the year ACIR released a comparative study of automobiles manufactured from 1940 to 1949 and those manufactured from 1950 to 1954 on the question of whether the newer group produced more or less injury than the older group in similar accidents. The study concluded that "on the most conservative basis, 'new' (1950-54) car designs have not demonstrated any improvements in the injury effects produced by accidents. When injury-producing accidents occur, occupants of 1950-54 ears are injured more often than occupants of 1940-49 cars. Further, there is a statistically significant increase in the frequency of fatality among the occupants of 'newer' cars. The contention that present day automobiles are 'safer' in injury-producing accidents is not borne out by the facts."
For its part, General Motors shrugged off the findings. Some Ford and Chrysler officials, however, were more sensitive to the possible consequences of this kind of information. An independent project, solidly financed, was acquiring the statistical capability to evaluate on a comparative basis the safety of automobiles based on their actual accident injury experience. The officials realized that it would be to the industry's advantage to establish their presence in ACIR's work. Before the end of 1955 Ford and Chrysler each announced a two-year grant to ACIR of $100,000 per year. In 1957 General Motors finally joined them in providing financial support through the Automobile Manufacturers Association. During the past several years, ACIR bas relied on annual grants of $175,000 from the Automobile Manufacturers Association and $300,000 from the U. S. Public Health Service.
From the standpoint of protecting its interests, the industry has never received so much for so little. The result has been an impressive perpetuation of the status quo in vehicle safety design, in spite of the potentially devastating impact of the collected data. Right from the beginning a close liaison was established between ACIR and the automobile industry. ACIR's director, Robert Wolf, said recently that interim studies and preliminary findings are often reviewed with the Automobile Manufacturers Association. The AMA is consistently asked for guidance and usually reviews drafts of reports before they are released to the public. Prior to a major announcement, such as the one made in November 1964, called "Automobile Crash Injury in Relation to Car Size," it has been common practice for ACIR to meet with industry representatives and go over the wording in the release.
Why Cornell finds it necessary to seek the advice and approval of the AMA concerning statistical analysis and reporting of data dealing with past accidents is not explained. Certainly ACIR has an adequate statistical staff and all the necessary data-processing equipment. The answer, in large part, lies in the AMA's desire to exercise a reviewing function which assures that ACIR does not name makes and models. To say, for instance, that the steering assembly is a major instrument of injury is a finding that can be tolerated by the automobile companies, but to have ACIR reports say that Make A's steering column is twice as likely to injure the driver as those in Make B, C, and D, would be damaging; it would tell consumers, insurance companies, and interested public agencies that some cars are not as safe as other cars.
The manufacturers have been almost entirely successful in making ACIR see matters their way. On only two occasions has Cornell named the brands of cars involved in ACIR reports. In 1964 ACIR's B. J. Campbell reported that an analysis of door latch effectiveness on very late model cars showed little difference between General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. Three years earlier, when a Cornell report found significant differences In door latch failure among the "Big Three," it deleted the car names and replaced them with Brand X designations. Another instance came in November of 1964. The Cornell report, called "The Safety Performance of 1962-1963 Automobile Door Latches and Comparison with Earlier Latch Designs," was based on data from 24,342 cars in which at least one occupant was injured during an accident. Among its more interesting conclusions was: "The doors of General Motors cars were tom off more frequently than those of Ford or Chrysler and the type of hinge damage appeared to be different, too: the General Motors hinge appeared to snap off cleanly with little or none of the deformation or twisting observed for other cars." ACIR was specific with its figures:
In the past two years there have been indications that ACIR is not entirely satisfied with the constraints placed upon it as a result of its "understanding" with the Automobile Manufacturers Association, but the chafing has not yet resulted in any blossoming of scientific independence.
However cautious ACIR has been in seeing that its internal workings and projected studies be kept from the public view, it made a mistake with the formally announced and suddenly suppressed Shoemaker and Narragon report. This was an analysis of steering column penetration scheduled for release in November 1963. ACIR director Robert Wolf gave a preview of the findings in an address he delivered that month at a Liberty Mutual Life Insurance Company conference on the automobile and public health. Wolf said, "This study, which examines accidents involving standard American cars, compacts and European cars, shows clearly that injury to drivers is strongly increased when column penetration occurs." He noted that in accidents of similar severity, the column on some makes of cars held up much less effectively than on others. Wolf then cited the report as "Narragon, Eugene A., and Shoemaker, Norris E., Steering Column Penetration in Automobile Accidents. Automotive Crash Injury Research, Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory, Inc., Report No. VJ-1823- 4, November 1963." Several months earlier in a Laboratory pamphlet entitled "Transportation Research," the same reference appeared. The month of November ended, and there was no report. There has still been no such report released. In ACIR's annual report for 1964, it was disclosed that the Shoemaker study was released to the AMA for the "purpose of securing technical guidance for use in a final report." The report also said, "The ACIR staff is still not satisfied that the best approach to the study has been formulated." Since the study pertained to what Robert Wolf called "important comparisons between car makes," caution indeed had been the order of the day.
The general explanation about statistical difficulties given by ACIR is not persuasive for two reasons. First, the ACIR seven-man statistical staff, headed by Dr. Jaakko Kihlberg, is acknowledged to have a high order of technical skill. Second, statistical difficulties of such seriousness would seem to have been discoverable well before the announcement that the report would be issued on a specific date.
As the Cornell data has accumulated to levels permitting more relined analysis of makes and models, private criticism by certain crash injury research specialists and observers of ACIR's tabu against naming manufacturers and models has mounted as well. Yet future plans for topics and studies to be undertaken by ACIR give no indication that analyses by manufacturer or make will be published.
Aversion to naming the manufacturer or make of car is not the only way that ACIR pays interest on the funds supplied by the Automobile Manufacturers Association. For almost a decade, ACIR has been providing each sponsoring automobile company with microfilm copies of accident photographs and police and medical reports of cases involving that company's products. For example, General Motors receives case reports relating to GM automobiles. These cases are provided only to the manufacturers. Furthermore, when an unusual occurrence of structural collapse or an injury relating to a particular make is observed, even if it is just one clinical investigation, notification is given to the producer of that automobile.
The exclusive funneling of specific case materials to the automobile makers by ACIR raises serious questions of public policy. ACIR's work is largely financed and supported by public agencies and funds. Over sixty per cent of its annual funds come from the U. S. Public Health Service, but the public contribution is much greater than indicated by that percentage. ACIR receives data for only a small fraction of its true cost since police and public health personnel freely contribute their time in preparing the specially designed report form that ACIR supplies them. This information should be considered a national data bank to be used for the benefit of the public generally.
In the present situation an injured person cannot obtain even the reports pertaining to the accident in which he was involved. Yet victims of marine or air disasters or their legal representatives have the explicit legal right to the detailed accident investigation data gathered by the Coast Guard or Civil Aeronautics Board. The Cornell data should be freely available to the public. In his final report on four years of investigation of fatal automobile accidents in the Boston area under a U. S. Public Health Service grant similar to that given Cornell, Alfred L. Moseley urged, "The findings should be public records so that justice and fair play in criminal and liability proceedings would be assured."
ACIR has rebuffed requests from public agencies to release to them even a small portion of the data which ACIR has given to the manufacturers. The New York State Joint Legislative Committee on Motor Vehicles and Traffic Safety (the Speno Committee) got in touch with Mr. Wolf in May 1963, taking note of an ACIR study released in 1961 that showed significant variations in door opening frequency among cars made by the "Big Three" manufacturers. The committee requested identification of the manufacturers and photographs of door latch and hinge failures in order to give it a basis on which to determine what design differences in the various door latches and hinges were associated with a higher frequency of door openings. The committee was in the middle of its pioneering investigation into vehicle safety and the need for safety design standards. ACIR turned down the committee's request, but a year and a half later decided it was wiser to publish the fact, with accompanying photographs, that General Motors had the worst door-opening record, followed in order by Ford and Chrysler.
On March 27, 1965, the Speno Committee wrote to Dr. Paul Joliet, chief of the Division of Accident Prevention in the U.S. Public Health Service, the organization that administers the federal grant to ACIR. The Speno Committee said that since the basic case data that ACIR supplies to the manufacturers is available to the Public Health Service, the committee would like to review these records in order to make its own analysis. The committee further pointed out that it considered the Cornell data to be publicly owned and therefore accessible to public agencies -- local, state, or federal.
Dr. Joliet called in the principals of the ACIR project to review the Public Health Service's policy concerning the issues raised by the Speno Committee. The result was a blanket endorsement of the status quo. Dr. Joliet stated flatly that ACIR was "free to determine with whom they wish to discuss the nature of any preliminary analyses they have performed, to whom they wish to make available any of their raw data material," and also to determine whether they wish to consult with their sponsors regarding publication of particular preliminary or final analyses. Further, the release of case data material to other investigators or other parties at interest is at the discretion of the principal investigator and the institution."
Not only has Dr. Joliet's division endorsed ACIR's policy of sharing its data only with the car manufacturers, but also it has denied itself the use of the data. Though the Division of Accident Prevention has the right to receive the same case material given to the manufacturers, it has deliberately chosen not to do so. When asked the reason for this policy, one employee of the division answered, "Who wants hot potatoes?"
Dr. Joliet and his associates seem to believe that their responsibility ends after they determine the value of the research proposal they are financing. In view of the Public Health Service's legal mandate, this is a remarkably limited role. The Division of Accident Prevention's key purpose is to plan and conduct "a nationwide accident prevention program aimed at encouraging and assisting state and local health and other agencies in the development, operation and improvement of local accident prevention programs." Dr. Joliet has told many Congressional committees that his division's interest is in preventing deaths and injuries. Presumably empirical data would help in this work.
To permit public funds to he mixed with industry money in such a project as ACIR and to give researchers full discretion to give data to manufacturers while denying it to all others is nothing short of an abdication of the public trust. By this action, the Division of Accident Prevention of the U. S. Public Health Service is sanctioning what amounts to a subsidy of the automobile industry, since the industry is the exclusive recipient of data that is paid for mainly through taxpayer contributions. This is a real bargain for the automobile manufacturers, whose contribution to ACIR amounts to the equivalent of only 2˘ for every car they sell.
There is no evidence that the industry has improved the safety of its vehicles as a result of the case reports it obtains from ACIR. In an article generally sympathetic to the automobile makers, Automotive News in May, 1965 commented, "Regrettably, the companies are making little use of these reports."
In addition to disseminating its case data exclusively to the automobile industry, ACIR appears to have an unreal vision of how its studies would find ultimate application to the design of safer vehicles. According to the Cornell scientists, their dreamed-of progress would proceed this way: 1) "Statistical studies discover a problem, define the problem area, and point toward a solution; 2) laboratory and engineering work result in a solution which is then incorporated into the vehicle; and 3) statistical studies evaluate effectiveness of the solution and indicate the need for further refinement."
The fallacy of this reasoning is illustrated by the history of just one item. So far, the door latch is the only vehicle feature that has gone through this sequence. First, Cornell found that the risk of serious injury or death was markedly greater when occupants were ejected than when they remained in the car. In the pre-1956 cars, ACIR data revealed that at least one door opened in nearly half of the injury-producing accidents. Then, in its 1956 models, the industry introduced so- called safety door latches, which involved a simple design change that was at least thirty years overdue. Finally, in 1961, Cornell released a study showing that door opening frequency in the 1956-1959 models, compared with the pre-1956 models, was reduced by about thirty per cent The next door latch improvements came in 1962 from Ford, in 1963 from General Motors, and in 1964 from Chrysler. In other words, for ten years motorists were used as guinea pigs while the car makers were awaiting statistics on how many of them were being thrown from cars during collisions before deciding to inch forward with the next improvement.
Statistical evidence is, after all, only one basis on which to decide the need for safer design. Clinical studies of a single, or a small number of cases can define a safety problem that demands a design change. Even before waiting for blood to be shed or a mangled vehicle to be investigated, as in the General Motors door hinge failure, advance design analysis and testing under collision conditions could detect a large majority of hazards before the final mass-production specifications are completed.
To move a manufacturer to action should not -- as it did -- require statistical confirmation by Cornell that the rear-view mirror is one of the ten top instruments of injury in automobile collisions. It is enough to know, as the Ford Motor Company knew in 1964, according to their consultant Dr. Donald Huelke, of twenty fatal cases which occurred when the victims struck the rear-view mirror in Ford Falcons. If the possibility of this particular hazard did not occur to the automobile designers before the vehicle was built, these fatal cases are proof of the need for redesigning the rear-view mirror.
ACIR has been subjected to some unfounded criticism. Certain foreign-car manufacturers, for example, intimated that the Cornell group made its "Big Car-Little Car" study -- which found, under similar accident conditions, a considerably higher incidence of serious injuries and deaths occurring in small-car accidents -- under pressure from American car manufacturers. In fact, the study was done on Cornell's initiative. But some fundamental criticisms of ACIR are justified. ACIR scientists have not displayed much commitment to giving a broader significance to their work. Like their colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health, UCLA, and Wayne State University (all working with federal funds and industry assistance), they have been in possession of information that is relevant to the elimination of millions of casualties, and the expertise to utilize that information. Like their colleagues, they have shown only a slight appreciation that their special roles should require them to state forcefully in public forums the issues for discussion and resolution. As nuclear physicists and medical scientists learned years ago, public discussion is of great importance to their research undertakings. Ultimately, the successful implementation of research findings provides the public support for additional research. The absence of scientific statesmanship among these independent accident-injury researchers working under federal grants explains to a great degree why their funds have not increased noticeably for a decade. These scientists who do not make known to the public the importance of their work and the practical possibility of a vastly safer vehicle cannot, of course, enjoy public support.
The ACIR staff might well refer back to the testimony before the Roberts subcommittee in 1959 of Dr. T. P. Wright, vice president for research at Cornell University. As an engineer with wide experience in problems of transportation safety, Dr. Wright addressed himself to the question of whether engineered safety design of vehicles can result in dramatic reductions in the annual highway injury and fatality toll. His answer was, "Most decidedly, yes; with these provisos: "If a concerted effort is made toward fuller utilization of the information which scientific research has already provided; if appropriate support for present and future investigation and research can be assured; if present and future findings can be channelized to individuals and organizations willing and able to act on their implications by applying them at the practical level; if appropriate public educational measures are assured and maintained." Then, in words which should have weighed heavily on the minds of the university accident-injury researchers, Dr. Wright added, "Furthermore, as a matter of personal ethics, I should consider myself guilty of a crime against humanity if, for whatever reason, I were responsible for prolonging the ravages of a disease which is the unnecessary and shameful byproduct of the greatest transportation system the world has ever known.... Delay will be measured in inexorable terms of human life, suffering, and permanent disability."
John Moore, the director of ACIR between 1955 and 1960, did lend his assistance to the Roberts Committee in its attempt to establish a public record on vehicle safety problems. The present director, Robert Wolf, delivered two addresses in 1963 and 1964 when he recommended corrective measures that were available and effective for improving automobile crashworthiness. Small as these efforts have been, they are improvements on the timidity of other university scientists and engineers working in the area of vehicle safety. Perhaps with the accumulated record of industry intransigence and the opening up of diversified sources of financial support from public agencies (recent contracts from General Services Administration and the Department of Commerce fund for special projects are the first indications), ACIR will rise to its public responsibility.
ACIR should make public its general and specific findings on design hazards. It should explain the deeper issues of why such hazards persist year after year, and the engineering feasibility of producing much safer automobiles. The sooner ACIR performs these missions of scientific statesmanship, the sooner the scientific-engineering community and the major institutions which form public policy will be awakened to their long-neglected responsibilities to save lives.
1. There are many ways to design steering columns to prevent what engineers call their "rearward displacement relative to the firewall and instrument panel." The design alternatives are cheap, practical and long known to the manufacturers. (See Fig. 4)
2. That was not the only year that Ford failed to exceed Chevrolet in sales. Moreover, the 1956 Ford, in contrast to the Chevrolet and the Plymouth, was barely changed from the previous year. Ford's Robert McNamara released publicly in early 1957 detailed figures on safety option sales and market surveys showing the marked success of the safety features in attracting purchasers. But to the delight of the industry the saying that in 1956 "Ford sold safety and Chevy sold cars" caught hold and became a standard response to critics of the automobile companies. It is interesting to note that Ford officials never went out of their way to deny this erroneous impression unless they were specifically requested to do so.