We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

Safety systems are set for survival

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, June 24, 2011

The other day I saw a driver wearing a helmet while motoring pleasantly down a local urban road. I looked twice to make sure that it was not a mirage.

There might be several obvious reasons for this type of seemingly strange behaviour. The person in question was driving a convertible. It looked like a solid shell-style bicycle helmet. Perhaps the driver had just finished a bike ride or was a race car driver and just forgot to remove the helmet when he was driving his topless pleasure craft.

We see motorcycle riders wearing head protection every day. Why does it seem odd when we see helmet-wearing vehicle drivers on a daily commute? All the drivers at the Indy 500 wear helmets. When head injuries are the leading cause of death in fatal vehicle crashes, why would it seem odd to see drivers or even passengers of cars and trucks wearing head protection?

My first car was a 1957 VW Bug. It did not have headrests, a padded dash, recessed knobs and dials, seatbelts, airbags, ABS, stability control or even a gas gauge.
The first time I saw a headrest in a car, I thought that it was meant as a resting place for a driver’s head on a long highway trip.

There were no obvious instructions for adjustment. The padded dash and steering wheel made perfect sense to me, having whacked myself on an unforgiving surface inside a car on a few occasions.

Steering wheels and cookie cutter-type dashboards were responsible for untold injuries in vehicle crashes, particularly prior to widespread legislated seatbelt use.

The first time I wore a seatbelt was on a trip to Whistler in 1972. My friend Dave Armstrong picked me up in the early hours of a Saturday morning and gave me a ride in his 327 Monte Carlo to the ski resort. When I did not immediately belt up, he looked at me and explained that the vinyl bench seats would have me sliding uncontrollably sideways in the turns if I did not belt up and furthermore, the car was unlikely to move from its parked position until I did. The seatbelt was a welcomed addition when we got to the winding roads around Squamish and beyond. Because of that experience, I continued to wear a seatbelt from that time forward.

Most of us would never even consider buying a used vehicle today if it did not come equipped with functioning airbags. I will never forget the news story about the California driver whose life was saved by an airbag in a head-on crash on a Los Angeles freeway. He had ordered the Lincoln in the late ’70s with all the “bells and whistles,” loaded with options. He did not even know the car had an airbag until it was responsible for his survival at the scene of the crash.

Many new vehicles come equipped with side door and curtain airbags. Technology advances have made our roads much safer. In fact the fatality rate on North American roads has been cut by half since the mid1970s.

There are all sorts of emerging safety systems, too numerous to mention, which will be accepted safety-system additions to future vehicles that we will all drive.

My question is obvious. Are helmets in cars a wacky idea or do they make perfect sense? Why are more and more skiers and snowboarders wearing them? Hockey players are not allowed to play without one. It is the law for motorcycle riders.

Do we disdain them at present because of a cultural resistance, or will they become “cool” and commonplace?

A fellow in Montreal is a champion of safety-helmet use in cars by children and teens. His webpage is drivingwithoutdying.com. It might be worth a look.

Steve Wallace is a member of the College of Teachers and the owner of Joan Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and the Interior of B.C.

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