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Mon, May 27, 2019 10:09
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Accidents and safety

Automobile safety remains in the forefront of my thoughts today as one of my senior students recovers for a serious accident. A car turned in front of her and she hit it almost head on. Car crush zones did their thing ... crushed that is ... air bags deployed and seat belts held her safely in the vehicle. Systems functioned properly and there were no life threatening injuries.

She saw the car come into her path but could not stop. However she blew the horn. This inadvertently caused the hand to be in the way of the deploying steering wheel air bag. Her hand is in a cast and should heal with time.

Thoughts on this tragedy. First, if this had been me as a teen in my parent's 1953 Buick, I would be dead. There is no question. I would have plunged into the steering wheel or through the windshield, as the car had no seatbelts and the chassis was stiff as a board. My student's car was unrecognizable from the front as the body literally disappeared, absorbing the energy from the crash, as it was designed to do. Thank God her parents bought her a safe vehicle.

Second, my student suffered bruises across her left shoulder and abdomen from the seat and shoulder belts. This demonstrates the huge forces that seat belts absorb even with car body crush zones and deploying air bags. It's a safety system and all parts are needed. So we have to do our part and use the seatbelts.

And last, this is the second incident of air bag hand injuries I've been told. The first was several years ago when a friend hurt the back on his hand in an accident. He later figured that he had his right hand at about 1 o'clock on the wheel and the air bag threw it into the rear view mirror. In my student's case, she had her hand near the center of the steering wheel blowing the horn.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) has new recommendations on hand positions on the steering wheel: Nine o'clock and 3 o'clock. They also recommend a push-pull method of turning the wheel, thus keeping your hands away from the 12 o'clock position. These recommendations keep your hands and arms away from the air bag deploying areas. Gees, I've been driving for over 60 years and now have to relearn how to steer. Just do it.

In closing, new tools for the road. Both our cars have dash cameras that record all the time the car is running. The power cords are tucked away in the vehicle trim and are not obtrusive. The micro-SD cards hold two or three days of driving videos. Once in September and once in October, vehicles inadvertently ran red lights in view of my camera. I say inadvertently because in both incidents, the driver realized the error but was too late to correct it. Neither resulted in an accident but both served as lessons learned: Avoid driving distracted and be extra cautious when you have a green light. In our cases, neither driver was paying attention but those around them were.

By the way, we're going to use the two videos in our driver education class.

Gene Canavan is a retired West Point Graduate and Paper Mill Utilities Manager and lives in Prattville, Alabama, USA.


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