Air bags save lives
Two years ago while I was part of the group on the Indian Adventure cycling expedition from the Taj Mahal in Agra to Kanyakumari, I wrote a blog called The New World Order. Influenced by the caste system in India, I wrote that there is another more modern caste system. This system exists just about on every road and almost in every corner of the world. At the bottom the most discriminated and often the most powerless are the pedestrians, and then come the cyclists, motorcyclists, drivers of private vehicles then the Brahmas of the roads – drivers of large vehicles. The point of the article was how a new ‘religious order’ was established in early 20th century and how it spread around the world and continues to rule the roads.
To prove my point – have you ever wondered why the air bag was invented for the occupants of a vehicle and – as most of the time the vehicles are empty – the drivers are therefore the primary beneficiary? Rationally this makes no sense. The driver, after all, is already protected in a cubicle made of hard plastics and metals. If something happens, he/she is the one who is most likely driving too fast or doing something they should not be doing like texting. And what happens to pedestrians hit at speeds above 50km? Their chances of survivals are around zero. Yet do we have any governments anywhere demanding installations of airbags on vehicles that would protect the pedestrians and cyclists?
When few years ago I first read that one car manufacturer was testing an airbag to protect pedestrians, a reporter naively asked when this technology will be put on new vehicles. The project manager responded; when the public demands it.
In an article in Der Spiegel in June 11, 2012 Volkswagen, the manufacturer of “people’s car, released a statement describing its position on the external airbag as “critical” (meaning negative) because “it’s impossible to rule out the possibility that accidental deployment would obscure the driver’s view of the road.” Mercedes makes a similar argument. Note there was no desire to invest any funds to solve the problem.
So why is it that governments, who in the long run would save huge amounts of money in health cost, are not taking action? More importantly, why are pedestrians and cyclists not demanding better protections?
Is it because of a certain inertia that overtakes us all and we simply think, that it will not happen to us? Is it because, like the untouchables in India, we have been disenfranchised and now accept this state as if it had been predetermined by gods and there is no point in trying?
According to WHO, 1.3 million people each year die in traffic accidents and at least 20 million suffer debilitating injuries – 46% of those are defined as vulnerable road users: pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.
Billions of dollars are now spent each year by governments and not for profit organizations to find cures for any number of diseases, yet it seems that when it comes to preventing millions of deaths and mutilations, there is simply no will. And there will not be any serious actions until cycling and pedestrians groups all over the world mobilize and lobby governments to get the car manufacturers to install external air bags on all vehicles within the next five years.
PS. Knowing the creativity of car manufacturers and their skill in selling illusions don’t be surprised that the industry will come back with alternatives which will suggest that anyone who is worried should wear an air bag on their bodies.