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A Publication of WTVP

Myth or fact: big, heavy cars are safer? It’s a myth that heavy vehicles, such as SUVs, are safer. In fact, the occupant of an SUV who’s struck at equal speeds with a smaller vehicle suffers more post-traumatic syndrome than a person whose car collapses. People believe they’re safer in heavy cars; however, the inertia of that type of automobile, on impact, allows the occupant to absorb the rundown.

For example, this means that in a minor, 10-mile-per-hour, rear-end collision, the target crash vehicle, upon impact, can throw as much as 10 g’s of force in less than 3 milliseconds to the accelerate of that person’s head and neck. In comparison, the crew of the space shuttle encounters 6 g’s over multiple minutes per launch.

I attended a seminar in California at the Spine Research Institute of San Diego. I listened to Dr. David Viano and Brian O’Neil of the Highway Insurance Institute of Safety (HIIS) and frequent guest of Dateline NBC and 60 Minutes. We discussed why rigid automobiles are being constructed. It’s a matter of economics. There’s more money to be produced in rigid cars. A research engineer for GM went public with an idea to improve GM’s safety. The bottom line was that this engineer was no longer needed in GM’s company. Saab immediately hired him and, maybe in its new 2007 automobiles, there will be an ingenious seat included, nicknamed the “Catcher’s Mitt.”

As with rigid seat backs, this seat has a perimeter support laced with inertia fabrics. During an impact that accelerates the vehicle forward faster, this seat actually catches the body. The body collapses and is absorbed quickly to prevent the head and neck from the “ramping effect,” which is the stretch of the human spine and is its weakest point. It’s believed these seats will cost an average of $700 to $900 per seat. Obviously, in the long run, it will decrease percentages of injury or permanencies of injury and with fewer traumas. Less severe trauma will be more effectively treatable.

What it boils down to is that the money saved in the short term increases what will need to be paid in the long term. Volvo and Saab are the two companies, as it appears today, to manufacture the safest automobiles. SUVs are most at risk for a high rate of injury. At low speeds, we’re insisting on making frames more rigid and less absorbent. IBI