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Comments on car safety comments
The NHTSA is considering some changes to how they do safety ratings on new cars, and it wants public input (at its own peril).
Posted May 17, 2013
By SARAH BUTZEN, EVERGEEK MEDIA
 
If you're an avid follower of federally-issued requests for comments on proposed US governmental policy issues, then you know that the US National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration is considering some changes to how they do safety ratings on new cars. And they want comments from anyone who has insight on several key questions:

+ For each proposed safety topic, is there a clearly demonstrated safety need and potential benefit?

+ Are there technologies (that aren't just hypothetical, or still in "the dream stage") that can address the safety need and deliver the potential benefit?

+ Are there objective tests that can measure the benefits and assess how well the technologies perform?

+ Is there research to support incorporating this area into the New Car Assessment Program?


I, of course, didn't know the answers to any of those but assumed that the forum would be filled by insightful and professionally-grounded comments from safety and automotive experts. And seeing that the comments forum had been open for a month, I trundled on over there to see what the experts had to say.

I guess I should have expected this: there were only ten comments. That's 10. X in Roman numerals. And they were, well, not left by experts.

One guy who says that this proposal does not consider the main cause of accidents: the roads themselves, which are in disrepair and badly marked. Another who says that driver training needs to be more rigorous, everyone should drive a standard transmission and stay off the phone, and that "driving is a priviledge not a right!" The next says that he wants a better sun visor and non-clogging windshield wiper spouts, and that his head rest is too close to his head.

And here's possibly my favorite comment of them all: "We need to get over this idea that drivers all come in the same height. I would like to be able to adjust the seat so that I can see out the windows AND reach the pedals at the same time." I really don't want to think about how this person is currently handling this issue—is he alternating between the two?

There was also a very reasonable, concise, fact-laden memo from the American Motorcyclist Association, expressing concern that crash avoidance technologies may induce complacency that would make drivers less likely to notice motorcycles. It asks that ratings of these systems take into account their ability to detect motorcycles (and, presumably, that their warnings take into account motorcycles' much shorter stopping time).

And there were two others that, under very generous interpretation, contained actual points that could be used in some way by NHTSA in considering their assessment program. One was this:

"...the handles to open locked doors in the 2013 nissan versa s are so tiny you need baby hands to work them. they are not safe available handles to unlock a door. nissan went cheap and unsafe on these door handles. in addition, they have no way to unlock the trunk from inside the car which also could be a safety hazard in an accident. you should have two ways to work the trunk."

While I find the phrase "you need baby hands to work them" deeply unsettling and the complaints about the Versa somewhat off the point (besides, I think you need baby-sized everything to work the Versa), there is an actual point here: handles that are difficult to use from the inside could be a safety hazard. Include the workability of door handles in safety ratings. Granted, it doesn't address anything in the current document, but at this point we're not being choosy.

The other somewhat-relevant comment is in support of the silver rating system, pointing out some issues that senior citizens have in getting in and out of cars and fastening the seat belt. It then goes into questions of what happens to the groceries in the trunk and whether trucks should have to stay in the right lane (I'm all for that), but at least it does address the "silver rating" question.

I don't mean to hold these commenters up to ridicule. They have their legitimate concerns, and it appears that many if not all of them are elderly and were drawn to comment largely by the "silver rating" proposal. Their comments are not the problem. It's the near-total absence of any other comments that are relevant that is the problem.

So: now is your chance. Seeing as the NHTSA's comments forum is not dominated by experts and is not filled with hundreds of comments already, your contribution might actually stand out (assuming you can write a complete sentence and have something coherent to say).

So please, go over there and put your two cents in. How often do you get the chance to make a comment in an online forum that you know someone will read and pay attention to, and that may actually make a difference in something that actually happens in real life? Not that your witty comeback to "ilovekitties1974" on the boards at www.bringbacktouchedbyanangel.com isn't important, or isn't real life. But I would argue that this is just a little bit realer. Of course, I'm no expert.

Update: Lest it be thought that I deliberately left out the better comments so that I could snark on the rest, I have to give props to Jill from Georgia who, just left a comment that appears to (1) recognize what the NCAP document is, (2) understand what the comment system is for, (3) contain actual thought about the proposed changes. Call me a naïve believer, but I think she read the damn thing. You're not going to let her show you up, are you?
 
 
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Comments on car safety comments

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