Of course they used to be. Back in the 1950s and 1960s when, during car crashes, “Drivers were impaled on rigid steering wheel columns.… Unpadded dashboards and the sharp edges and ashtrays gouged out eyes” and cars “crumpled like a Japanese lantern” in rollover accidents. But all that changed when eventually, the auto industry decided that safety “sold” and cars became safer.
But if we’ve learned one thing over the last few years, it’s that with every new safety innovation comes a new opportunity to cut corners.
First to today’s lead story in the New York Times, a tabloid-sounding article called “It Looked Like a Stabbing, but Takata Air Bag Was the Killer.”
Hien Tran lay dying in intensive care this month after a car accident, as detectives searched for clues about the apparent stab wounds in her neck.…
When Ms. Tran crashed her car, the air bag, instead of protecting her, appeared to have exploded and sent shrapnel flying into her neck, the Orange County sheriff’s office said. On Monday, in an unusual warning, federal safety regulators urged the owners of more than five million vehicles to “act immediately” to get the air bags fixed.…
But the urgent request was bound to create confusion among owners. Honda said it did not have enough parts to fix the cars immediately. Toyota said it would in some cases disable the air bags, leaving a note not to ride in the front passenger seat.
They're kidding, right? If only. Adds Bloomberg,
[This d]eepening crisis involving deadly air bags is shaking confidence in the ability of automakers including Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) and Honda Motor Co. to ensure the safety of millions of U.S. drivers. …
The growing number of air-bag recalls also raise doubts about whether carmakers have learned to address defects quickly and comprehensively after General Motors Co.’s bungled ignition switch recalls and Toyota’s failures in 2009 and 2010 involving unintended acceleration. Honda is under separate probes over whether it underreported fatalities and injuries in the U.S.
Trinity Industries, the highway guardrail maker accused of selling systems that can malfunction during crashes and slice through cars, was found by a jury on Monday to have defrauded the federal government.
The case was brought under the False Claims Act by Joshua Harman, a competitor who discovered that the company made changes in 2005 to its rail head — the flat piece of steel at the front of the system — without telling the Federal Highway Administration, as is required. The company sold the guardrails to state governments that, in turn, received federal reimbursement.…
The guardrail system works by collapsing when hit head-on, absorbing the impact of a vehicle and guiding the railing out of its path. The rail head or end terminal, which is often marked with yellow and black stripes, is supposed to slide along the guardrail itself, pushing it to the side.
But the redesigned Trinity product narrowed the channel behind the head, which can cause it to jam instead of sliding along the rail, some state officials said. When that happens, the rail can pierce an oncoming vehicle like a harpoon, endangering occupants.
At least 14 other lawsuits blame the guardrails for five deaths and more injuries. Trinity is a major guardrail supplier nationwide. According to internal company documents, the change was expected to save about $2 on every rail head. And Mr. Harman said that the change made the guardrails impossible to reuse.
The National Safety Council “estimates some 35,200 auto-related deaths occurred in 2013. The good news is that that's three percent fewer than in 2012. The bad news? It's one percent higher than 2011.” So that's, what, somewhere in the vicinity of the Korean War?