Frank J. Winchell

Orchard Lake, MI

Thursday, May 30, 1996

David E. Davis, Jr.

Editor & Publisher

Automobile Magazine

Ann Arbor, MI

Dave, ole boy,

I got to tell you, Bob Cumberford’s piece: “Thanks to an Unlikely Friend,” about does it for me, pal.

Car & Driver, was a better deal.

Just exactly what is it that Ralph Nader has done?

What has NHTSA done?  Look at the Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatality Rate for the years 1921 thru 1993, Fig 4.  Compare what the industry (the market) did voluntary prior to 1966 and what NHTSA did when they took over in 1966.  There isn’t a blip in the goddamn curve to evidence that they even existed.

In the period:

*1920 to 1930, fatalities fell about 7.0 per million miles

*1930 to 1940, “       4.5“

*1940 to 1950, “       3.0“

*1950 to 1960, “       2.0“

*1960 to 1970, “       1.6“

*1970 to 1980, “       1.4“

*1980 to 1990, “       0.9“

*1990 to 2000, it is projected to drop something like another 0.5 fatalities.

It looks like the fatality rate will level off at about 1 per 100 million miles in about 100 years.

I don’t know what the consumer/taxpayer paid and continues to pay for NHTSA, but I would be sure that it is a hell of a lot more than anybody thinks; — the cost of the buildings, the labs, the roads, the equipment, wasteful hopeless R&D, product development, production, the compliance and certification process, maintenance, litigation, recalls, the diverted productivity, etc…  A plot of what the consumer/taxpayer actually paid, for whatever it was he was supposed to get, ought to be superimposed over the fatality rate curve.

In 1966, the domestic industry had the lowest fatality rate of any industrialized nation in the world, by far.  Why?  “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, or the brewer, or the baker, the management, the engineers, or the factory workers that we get our dinner cars.”  Further, doesn’t the fact that the goddamn industry drinks its own wine, weigh on the attribute of its product?  Is it not enough that we encourage our mothers to drink it? That we encourage the wife, kids and friends to drink it?  The goddamn chairman drank it.  The guy on the line drank it.  Still, if concern for family , friends and self preservation were not enough, might the wily robber barons have found that killing and maiming customers was not good for business?

What incentive, what mechanism could be more powerful or more predictable?

What kind of a rocket scientist would take from that market place the responsibility for designing and building “safe” cars for the wife and kids and give it to the likes of Joan Claybrook.  Is that incredible or what?  What kind of society would applaud that kind of logic?  What kind of society would cough up billions of tax and product dollars for that kind of deal?  I’ll tell you what kind of society would do something like that; the consumer/electorate right here in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  Today’s Americans look to their government as some kind of a nanny, something there with the duty and the wisdom to shield us from the inevitables of just being here.

She is there to guard and comfort us should we lack the will and intellect to get off our own ass.  She is there to thwart the process of natural selection; to protect and to extend the life and power of the least fit; to feed, clothe and house them; to dispense free rubbers at school and pay little kids to have babies.  Yea and to spare us all from the robber barons; to spare us all from the evils of the market place.

There can be only one explanation:  meningoencephalitis!

For example: Seat Belts

Fastening the guy to the interior of the vehicle mass is, without question, the most effective “crash worthy” act known to science.  Nowadays, anyone with even the barest knowledge of crash mechanics, buckles up.  But how is the “public welfare” served by set belts?  How are you violated if I don’t wear mine?  How is the “public welfare” served by forcing the rest of us to bear the burden of forcing the witless to buckle up?

The witless?  Those who think they do but don;t know sicum about crash mechanics and those who know they don’t know but lack the sense and humility to heed the counsel of those who do.  Neither are likely to enhance the species.

Free them.

Back in the 40’s, I knew a guy who put a seat belt in his own car, on purpose.  I thought he was nuts, so did everybody else.  In those days, as I recall, they didn’t even have seat belts in race cars, any race car.  They had em in airplanes but not for crashing.  They were there to keep the pilot in his seat and behind the controls in turbulent air and for flying upside down. While the industry recognized the significance of things like all steel bodies, safety glass, etc for crashworthyness, they were occupied with the more obvious, the more sensible solution: avoidance: light, horns, mirrors, bigger windows, better brakes, better maneuverability, better traction, etc.  The road engineers were replacing dirt and gravel with concrete and blacktop, widening curves, increasing visibility, separating lanes, eliminating in plane intersections, adding traffic control lights and signs, etc.  Yeah, the problem was thought to be the “nut behind the wheel.”  Most of us did not consider ourselves nuts.

Ford came out with an optional belt in the 50’s.  It didn’t sell.  And they dropped it.  Belts make sense but that was the state of our ratiocination at the time.  Helmets make sense too.  No racing driver would consider getting in his car without his helmet.  5 point belts make sense too, (Lynn St. James included) and are far more effective than 3 points.  Maybe there will be a day when we will look back on 1996 with the same captious eye we now direct at the 50’s.  I hope not.

Belts? Look again at Fig 4.

If you ever see a race car with an airbag, I’ll buy a new Saab every Monday morning.

What ever must or ought to be, lets not allow the government to get involved.  Even if they were honest and knew what they are doing, we just don’t need them.

Look how they handled seat belts.  They didn’t have the integrity to pass a law forcing the electorate to wear them.  They forced the industry to make belts standard equipment knowing the public did not want them.  When they didn’t buckle up, they forced the industry to incorporate ignition interlocks.  The public hated them and sat on them.  So NHTSA mandated “passive restraints.”  They gave the industry the choice: automatic belts or air bags.

*Automatic Belts:

> A belt that puts itself on you whether you gave a shit or not.

> The geometry of which was inherently inferior.

> Belts that required, by law, an emergency release, so you didn’t have to put them on if you didn’t want to, anyway.

> A system that was predictably, a miserable failure.

The Public hated them.  Bound by law, the industry had no alternative but to tout ‘air’ bags.

*Air Bags:

> A thing the industry did not think was ready or worth the cost.

> Bags don’t help if you get hit from the right or left, or from the back, or if you get    upside down, or if you get hit more than once.

> So you gat to wear the belts anyway.

Further:

> Erecting an energy absorber after the impact but before the guy collides with the interior of the vehicle, is no task for Baby Leroy.

> It is therefore destined that; while infrequent, periodically one of those new of ancient of the millions out there, will, without provocation, in the course of the evening rush hour, in the midst of five lanes of traffic, on I XYZ at 65 mph, go off — i.e.: “deploy!”  The immediate and subsequent consequences of which, I confidently entrust to your imagination.

> It is also a fact that unsurvivable crashes will continue to occur.  It is a virtual certainty that some enterprising, eleemosynary, pettifogger will find that Gramma was rubbed out by a negligent, and wealthy corporation.  A whore from the physics lab of one of the more prominent universities will find, for a  modest fee, that the thing went off a few nano seconds too soon, or…. too late.  Should you have difficulty visualizing the consequences of this one, I will assume you have been or are about to be embalmed.

For a society that ponies up about a third of its income to support its government, we net, I think, something less than nothing.  We have cuffed Adam Smith’s invisible hand.  In its place we have the government conspicuous foot.  We have regulated the ass off the source of the nations wealth.  We have flunked economics.  We are flunking evolution.  We have flunked democracy.  We are flunking freedom and responsibility.  We have flunked justice.  We flunked drinking.  We are flunking drugs.  We are about to flunk smoking.  We have flunked education and we are flunking home.  We have rejected the fundamental concept of punishment and reward.  We have flunked charity and responsibility.  We have flunked compassion.  We don’t even know what it is.

If nothing else, we need to restore police brutality and child abuse and get mom back in the kitchen and posthaste, to quit suckling that big muscle bound, conniving nanny in Washington.

Respectfully,

Frank

PS – No, I am not a radical right wing extremest.  I do not advocate violence.  I am just a poor, isolated peace loving son-of-a-bitch who thinks he would like to start his own country.

Notes:

The following lists some of the voluntary vehicle and road changes effecting accident avoidance and crash worthiness by the auto and road industries prior to regulation beginning in 1966.

Vehicles: – Self starter, all steel bodies, safety glass, reliable door latches, locks and hinges, dual hood latches, increased glass area for visibility, the evolution of high/low seal beam headlights, reverse lights, tail lights, brake lights, park lights, map lights, turn signals, variable speed automatic windshield wipers, day/night rear view mirrors, remote control side view mirrors, brakes: from mechanical rear drums to 4 wheel hydraulic power disc, anti-lock brakes, parking brakes.  Tires: huge improvements in reliability, cornering stiffness, extended limit of control, wet and dry traction coefficients, snow tires, power steering, shocks and suspensions geometry for roadability, lower center of gravity and wider tracks with great improvements in stability and control, reliable and responsive engine performance.  All the things that reduce driver distraction and promote closed window operation, automatic transmissions, adjustable seats, driver comfort and connivence, accessible controls, venting and air conditioning, etc.

Roads: – Traffic lights, oneway streets and roads, divided, multi lane through ways designed for minimum vehicle to vehicle relative speeds and good visibility, large radius curves and minimum grades for constant speed operation and visibility, out of plane intersections, merging interchanges, wide berms, free of obstructions, high coefficient smooth surfaces, water shedding profiles, guard rails, readable route directions, improved maintenance, etc.