Last week, a two-week Global Road Safety Leadership Course at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore came to an end. The expansive course, which focuses on the multi-sectoral issue that is road safety, concluded with a field trip to a crash testing facility in Virginia, operated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute – organizations funded by United States insurance companies and dedicated to the reduction of death, injury and property damage from motor vehicle crashes. Both computer modeling and physical car crash tests are performed at the facility.
In the five minutes it may take to read this post, 12 people will have been killed in preventable road crashes. These 12 will be added to the rolls of the 1.3 million people killed in such incidents worldwide every year. Half of these deaths are vulnerable road users and, in many parts of the world, pedestrians. Road injuries are already on the World Health Organization’s list of top-10 causes of death globally (2015) and without intervention are on track to become the seventh leading cause of death by 2030.
On the way to the testing facility, I expected to hear about technologies for saving the lives of those inside the vehicle, such as airbags, seatbelts, electronic stability control, or autonomous emergency braking.
In actuality, the tour demonstrated that vehicle design is being changed to reduce injuries of those outside of the vehicle, such as pedestrians. At the testing facility, engineers performed actual crash testing with dummies inserted with devices simulating the human body. Most pedestrians are hit by the front of a car when crossing the street. “If the driver hits the brakes, the person typically ends up on the ground in front of the vehicle, but if the driver doesn’t brake, the person continues to hit an exterior mirror and land on the driver or passenger side of the vehicle,” a senior engineer explained. That’s the reason exterior mirrors are now mounted on springs and door handles are recessed, all to reduce pedestrian injury. The majority of cars sold in the U.S. now have braces supporting the hood that crush when impacted from above, such as by a person’s head. In addition, a plastic engine cover serves to soften the impact, as created increased space between the hood and the cover.
High-income countries, like the U.S., are developing these technologies to save lives and reduce serious injury, but work is still desperately required to get these innovations to low- and middle-income countries.
An informed community is an important step in reaching car safety equality around the globe. Knowing that these technologies exist and are affordable can create demand of these life-saving mechanisms and put pressure on government officials to implement policies requiring these mechanisms as standard from manufacturers. Giving an informed voice to the millions of people affected by road traffic crashes is critical to the ultimate goal of ending preventable road traffic deaths and injuries.