- The Washington Times - Friday, November 29, 2002

So you think your car equipped with frontal and side air bags and side head bags will provide all the protection you'll need to drive safely on today's city streets and freeways? Think again.
Dr. Stephen G. Moran, a plastic surgeon with the Crash Injury Research and Engineering Network (CIREN) Center, told members of the Western Automotive Journalists that frontal air bags can still kill if the passenger is seated incorrectly, and that side and head bags have proven almost worthless in serious accidents.
He pointed out that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 41,730 person were killed and another 3,031,000 were injured on the nation's public roads and highways last year.
"The deaths and injuries associated with motor-vehicle collision, not to mention economic costs [$350 billion in 2001], are recognized as an epidemic," Dr. Moran said.
CIREN was created in 1996 to combat the epidemic. Its mission is to reduce deaths, disabilities and human and economic costs by improving the prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of vehicle crash injuries. Clinicians and engineers in academia, industry and government collaboratively pursue in-depth studies of crashes, injuries and treatments to improve processes and outcomes. The 10 CIREN centers cooperate to learn as much as possible about real motor-vehicle collisions and real injuries, for comparison with those modeled with computers, standardized crash tests and crash dummies.
Dr. Moran is based at the Birmingham campus of the University of Alabama where he is assistant professor with the Department of Surgery. The campus is one of the 10 CIREN centers.
Other facts brought out by Dr. Moran were that drivers over the age of 85 are the fastest-growing group in the United States and there is a need for the automotive industry to provide better protection for senior citizens.
He also said that young people are often killed in crashes where the vehicle leaves the road and rolls over, while seniors tend often to be injured at intersections where their poor peripheral vision doesn't allow them to see another car entering the crossing.
Dr. Moran said the huge size of sport utility vehicles is one reason they play a large role in auto fatalities. On the other hand, he said that drivers and occupants of the small SUVs are at greater danger of being killed.
He said that other nations protect their young drivers by not issuing driver's licenses until their 18th birthday and at the same time limiting the new drivers to a single passenger. Sixteen is the usual age for young Americans to qualify for a license.
In Ireland, a driver involved in an accident, right or wrong, loses his license for a one-year period. "This cuts down on aggressive driving," he observed.
Dr. Moran was also critical of U.S. automakers because they have not agreed on a standard bumper height. "Mercedes-Benz has made this move and Ford Motor Company is expected to follow, but the rest remain unconvinced," he said.
He was also critical of the industry because it doesn't reveal the outcome of its crash tests. Manufacturers are interested in passing the standards but the remainder of the information is proprietary. Dr. Moran also said that the standard male, female and child dummies do not give an accurate picture of how a similar accident will injure those of different size and weight.
After the meeting, I drove home in a much less aggressive manner as I remembered that all those air bags couldn't protect me in all circumstances.


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