Scholarship 2017 Essay: Ty Samuels

Subject: What Safety Features Can Be Added To Cars To Cut Down On Injuries When A Car Crash Occurs?

Writer: Ty Samuels

Even the most defensive driver cannot control the actions of other drivers.  While the best way to avoid an injury is to avoid a crash altogether, it is possible to add safety features to cars that help combat some of the more devastating or prevalent injuries.  Statistically, whiplash, or damage to the body’s connective tissue such as muscles, ligaments and tendons, is the most common injury.  Furthermore, a sudden stop or direction change can lead to muscle strain in the neck and back, while impact with a side window or steering wheel can cause injuries ranging in severity from slight bruising to concussion or even brain damage.  Other injuries can result from loose objects inside a car that become projectiles during a high-impact accident.  Finally, the driver may experience broken ribs or internal injuries as a result of impacting the steering wheel.  In this paper we consider three potential life-saving safety features that can be added to cars to cut down on injuries and even fatalities when a crash occurs.

Watch This: Incentivized Defensive Driving

In Texas, statistics have shown that young, inexperienced drivers who have recently been through a defensive driving course are 50% less likely to be involved in a fatal crash, and there is a similar trend among older drivers.  In post-course reviews, drivers consistently reveal that they learn things in the course which they have either forgotten or missed in their initial driver’s education.

Cars today have LCD screens and can be internet-connected when paired with cell phones.  For the first time, we have an opportunity to take advantage of both technologies and incentivize drivers to participate is defensive driving courses at their leisure, on a regular basis.  We can offer a “defensive driving” program that lets them watch short segments of driver safety videos a few times a month, at home or even in the car (the feature can be offered when the key is disengaged from the ignition.)

Using short videos and even multiple choice questions, the industry can begin to chip away at the most common causes of accidents. We can even target videos based on the driving history of the main driver which the driver can then incorporate into her driving immediately.  In return, she would get a small discount on her car insurance.  It’s a win-win for everyone involved, particularly since the most cost-conscious drivers who are most likely to take advantage of the program are also the least experienced and most prone to accidents.

Any of us who has been to “traffic school” can attest that it works.  For a time afterwards, we drive a little more cautiously, more aware of potential dangers and more defensively.  These safety videos would serve to bring the same defensive driving mindset to drivers BEFORE they have a moving violation.

Seats, Reinvented: Avoiding Soft Tissue Damage

As one who has suffered from a neck injury in the past, I can attest that all car seats are not created equal.  I’m tall and slender, and often car seats do not provide enough lumbar support, or have headrests that are not well-positioned for my height and would not provide proper support in the event of a rear-end collision.  Sometimes even adjustable headrests are so uncomfortable that in extreme cases when there were no alternatives, I have had to pull headrests out of rental cars altogether.

I propose a new paradigm shift in car seat design, where seats adjust to fit the form of their passengers, not the other way around, providing proper head, neck and lumbar support and reduce soft tissue damage during a “whiplash” event.  This won’t fix the problem of muscles stretching from the forward momentum of the initial impact, but the seats can better support the body when it bounces back, and they can better cushion the impact.

Nothing but Net: When Loose Objects Become Projectiles

Another common safety issue is loose objects that become projectiles after an impact.  A simple and very effective solution would be to have a soft net that slides up from between seats, keeping items in the passenger seat from hitting the driver, and isolating the back seat from loose items on the floor or surrounding areas.  Another, perhaps even more deadly “loose object” are passengers themselves, who don’t wear seat belts, particularly in the back seat.  These unsecured passengers pose enormous risks to young children who are properly secured as these passengers becomes projectiles themselves.  An adult who is thrown inside a vehicle in a high-impact collision can cause severe, even fatal injuries to a small child.  A barrier that quickly swings into position when sensors identify a sudden change in acceleration (either direction or magnitude) has the potential to save people from death or very serious injury.

Technology serves us best when it helps us avoid crashes altogether, but even the most savvy product designers know we can’t control all variables.  In modern times, our cars have the capability to learn from our past behavior and prepare us for the future with defensive driver recurrent training. They can make our journeys more comfortable while cradling us from the dangers that may lurk ahead.  Our vehicles can even look into the future, with safety nets that deploy in fractions of a second, protecting us from loose objects that can become projectiles in a high-impact collision.  More and more, our cars will help us avoid harm, and significantly minimize the injuries that can occur when tragedy does strike.