Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Protecting the Lowly Pedestrian

This article mentioned by the instapundit caught my eye. Apparently, Cranfield University in England has prototyped a novel airbag technology to protect pedestrians hit by cars.

From the photograph, it looks to have a somewhat Rube Goldberg flavor to it. To my unpracticed eye, it also looks to be somewhat expensive although a spokesman for the project reassures us that, "it would add little to the cost of the vehicle." Why does this seem unlikely to me?

There is essentially no limit to the features that can be added to automobiles to make them safer. The problem is of course figuring out how to pay for them. There is also obviously a difference between technologies designed to protect innocent third parties (e.g. pedestrians or people driving other cars) and the cars' occupants. This is why all cars must have brakes but not bulletproof windshields.

It's one thing for a consumer to be willing (or not) to pay for things that will directly benefit that consumer. On the other hand, it seems unlikely that he or she would be interested in voluntarily paying extra for something that will only be of very remote benefit to oneself. External airbags as described in the article seem destined to be a marketing and pricing nightmare.

I wonder though, in our current atmosphere of government regulation, how far might the White House and Congress might go in mandating technologies such as this one? I also wonder what actual public health benefits might be realized. I can easily imagine such a device having only a marginal benefit in terms of morbidity and mortality. We will study this in a meaningful manner before broadly demanding its application?

As an aside, I think it's ironic that this device was first tested on a Fiat Stilo. Fiat is of course a company soon to own 20% of Chrysler which is in the process of becoming nationalized by the U.S. How long before the powers that be declare that all Chryslers (and or Fiats) are required to have it installed?

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Anonymous Barbara said...

I was once hit by a car as a pedestrian. I went up on the hood and hit my head high up on the windshield. Looking at the picture in the Wired article, the placement of this "hood" would not have protected or cushioned where my head hit, which was considerably higher than the cushioned area shown. I'm not sure what "research" showed that area didn't need covering; I suspect that leaving an opening for the driver to still see the road and avoid further collision was the actual reasoning behind the design.

This discussion has relevance to the tragic Richardson case. Although I walked away from the above accident, I had clearly had a severe bump to my head (the windshield, though not cracked, had a major mark on it). However, the medics didn't offer to take me to the hospital; in fact, they told me I didn't have to go. (Later, I would consider this oversight on their part to be incompetence and possible malpractice.) Luckily, my father had always impressed on me the idea that anyone with ANY sort of head injury should go to the hospital, so I had the police take me there. The doctors did not find anything worse than a mild concussion (this was 20 years ago, before MRIs, so nothing of that sort could be done). However, they did tell me to get woken up every hour the first night, which I did. Luckily, again, my symptoms, although severe (nausea, horrible headaches, etc.), did subside in 24-48 hours and I didn't have any internal bleeding.

In other words, Ms. Richardson, unfortunately, was either not trained as well as I was to deal with brain injuries (problem with her upbringing), or she was too confused to know what to do. Then the question arises, should we mandate that those with head injuries go to the hospital? Maybe so. (They may be assumed to be temporarily incompetent to make that decision.)

In my case, of course, the American system would have failed me miserably, had I not had that training from my father. Of course, in my case, if might not have made any difference either way (if no internal bleeding, no hospital wouldn't have made an impact b/c I would have recovered anyway; if internal bleeding, going to the hospital might not have helped due to no MRI at that time). However, I still sure am glad I knew that rule. It might have saved Ms. Richardson's life if she had, too.

May 25, 2009 10:29 PM  
Blogger Scout said...

um, how is it even going to know whether to deploy until contact (and damage) has already happened?

August 19, 2009 11:04 AM  
Anonymous online radiology said...

Great post, I look forward to reading more.

March 01, 2011 1:35 AM  

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