ON BEAUTY AND SAFETY

CARS WERE BEAUTIFUL WHEN THEY WERE DEADLY. THE TROSSI MERCEDES, FOR EXAMPLE. THIS ONE-OFF TWO-SEAT SPORTS CAR, BUILT ON THE CHASSIS OF A 1928 SSK RACER AND NAMED FOR THE ITALIAN NOBLEMAN WHO COMMISSIONED IT IN 1930, IS GORGEOUS ENOUGH TO MAKE YOUR GUMS ACHE.

John Carey

It’s fairly safe to assume that the Trossi’s rare beauty is the reason Ralph Lauren decided to buy it. But seen with modern eyes, this four-wheeled work of art is dangerous. It’s easy to imagine the unrestrained driver being impaled by the car’s lance-like steering column in a serious head-on impact. It’s equally easy to visualise the passenger being flung to a nasty demise in a rollover. And what the sharp-edged radiator shell and glasslensed headlights would do to a pedestrian is awful to contemplate.

No one would dare suggest winding the safety clock backward to Count Trossi’s time. We’ve all gradually accepted it is worth sacrificing some beauty for greatly improved safety. The creativity of today’s car designers is certainly somewhat stifled by the legal requirements that ensure a high minimum level of safety in every car on the market.

There’s another price we pay. Safety costs money. Each car buyer covers part of the expense of installing belts, bags and brakes, and they also pay for the engineering hours to develop and test safety systems that are properly effective.

It’s sensible to pay this protection money. The risk of being involved in a really serious crash is slim, but should it happen it’s a guaranteed catastrophe. The logic here is similar to buying home insurance. It’s not very likely your house will burn down, but if it does… Sticking with this analogy, how would you feel about being forced to also pay for the insurance of your next-door neighbour’s house? Or that of some stranger in a distant city? Outrageous!

Being made to pay for something that can only benefit someone else? No way… Yet isn’t this exactly what pedestrian protection regulations do? Designing and testing cars to ensure they meet legal ped-pro standards also adds cost. So does hardware favoured by premium carmakers, such as active bonnets and external airbags.

In Australia, pedestrian fatalities are outnumbered by driver and passenger deaths by roughly five to one. Data also suggests that about one-third of the pedestrians killed are affected by alcohol (as in above the legal limit for driving).

A cold-hearted cynic would ask: “Why should I pay to mitigate the injuries of an irresponsible drunk who steps off the footpath without looking?” It’s a good question.

Cars today may not be as beautiful as they once were, but there are limits to what can be expected when it comes to making them safer.

Pedestrians are supremely vulnerable, and nothing can change this fact. As studies from Sweden suggest, avoiding impact altogether or reducing impact speed is likely to save more of them than the best pedestrian-friendly nose design. Shockingly, according to the Swedes, half the drivers of cars that kill pedestrians either do not brake at all before impact or slow only slightly.

Autonomous car tech can change that.

Dramatically. And once autonomy is perfectly reliable, there’s no reason why cars couldn’t be safe and beautiful, is there?

Why should I pay to mitigate the injuries of an irresponsible drunk?

Good form

ANCAP has been conducting pedestrian safety tests since 2000.

Of the many technological advances in that time, the organisation believes daytime running lights to be the biggest contributor to pedestrian safety, cutting daytime fatalities by 12 percent.

Despite the advances in front end designs and autonomous braking systems, a vehicle only needs to achieve an ‘Acceptable’ pedestrian protection rating to be eligible for an overall fi ve-star safety rating.