Classic Cars: Safety First! In Modern Automobiles

Photo: dolgachov/iStock/Thinkstock

Driving in the old days was dangerous. In the ’40s and ’50s, racecar drivers used to racecars while wearing suit jackets and ties. Of course, there were no seatbelts or roll bars on these vehicles. Those beautiful chrome laden cars of the ’50s also had dashboards that were festooned with all sorts of odd shaped protruding chrome radio knobs, steering wheel horn rings and assorted “futururama” jet shapes that were designed to wow the car buying public. I believe it was the Ford Edsel that had automatic transmission push buttons smack-dab in the middle of the steering column. These were sure to give you a memorable tattoo on your forehead or chest in the advent of a frontal collision.

Seatbelts hadn’t been invented yet and when Ford tried to put them in passenger cars, nobody bought them. Then again, that was the era of very popular Hollywood cowboy films, and when it came to car safety, American drivers were rough and tough cowboys on the range and a little naïve about car safety.

Also, pedestrians weren’t so well off either. All those period cars had massive chrome bumpers that were designed to look good and offer a modicum of protection to a car’s bodywork, but could cause massive damage to one’s body if he were hit by a car. And some hood ornaments were like spears. If you were walking and fell onto the front of a car of that era, you would probably be seriously impaled.

Car safety has certainly improved today, but there is still a lot of rather stupid ideas that put one in danger. That ignition key debacle with certain models of GM products is a good example. As you probably know, due to a design fault with an ignition key lock, some GM car ignitions shut down while the car was driving. Several drivers were killed. They didn’t die because the ignition shut down, but they died because when the ignition shuts down on any car, it loses its power steering and power brakes. In some cases if the key turns in the lock, as it did in the GM cars, your car’s steering wheel will also lock and you will lose all steering control.

The accidents beg for an answer: Why on earth is there any device in a car that locks the steering wheel while it is in motion? Obviously, this steering wheel lock was probably put into cars to prevent it from being stolen. But I’m sure that, with our amazing electronics, the boy geniuses who design our cars can devise some better way to prevent our cars from being stolen. A steering wheel lock is old school and it has proven to be very dangerous.

I also believe that GPS navigation screens, which are mounted low in a dashboard and out of the driver’s highway line of sight, are the most dangerous device in new automobiles. The GPS is a great driving aid, but if you attempt to program it while driving, you may get to a different destination—the hospital. Cell phones, iPads, all great devices, but remember to keep your eye on the road and focus on what is happening outside your car and not inside. Sixty miles per hour of forward motion should be taken seriously and is very unforgiving.

Contact Bob Gelber at [email protected].

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