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Public Interest Law Professor John Banzhaf

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IIHS's List of Safe Cars for Teens Has a Major Flaw, Says Law Prof John Banzhaf / One Simple Step to Slash High Speed Driving Could Save More Lives Than All Other Tips

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety [IIHS] recently released a list of "safe" cars that parents should buy for teens, and tips for making sure they really are safe, but it failed to disclose one simple step concerned parents can take which would avoid more needless highway deaths among young people than all their other recommendations, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who has written extensively on auto safety.

Washington, DC, July 23, 2014 --( "Any recommendations for cars for teens should include information about a simple step to slash high speed driving, which is both a major cause of highway accidents among teens, and also the big factor increasing the likelihood that such accidents will result in fatalities and serious injuries," says Banzhaf.

As Ask.Cars,com and many other Internet sites note, virtually every car on the road today already has, built into its on-board electronic computer system, a high-speed cutoff circuit which prevents the vehicle from being driven at a speed greater than that programmed into its computer memory.

Unfortunately, the top speeds programmed into these systems usually exceed 120 mph, and are based upon the speed at which the tires will begin to disintegrate from centrifugal force. But, as Wikipedia explains, the top-speed setting can easily be reset by car dealers and others to something far more realistic, almost as simply as computer users change the "defaults" in various fields on their computer programs.

So, instead of simply recommending that parents concerned about accidents consider certain cars for teens, the Institute should at least have alerted parents to this additional option which would prevent a far more frequent cause of death and injury among young drivers than the safety ratings of the vehicles.

"For a young very inexperienced teen driver, especially one who has been admonished to limit his driving to city streets and not to exceed a speed of 55 mph, a parent could request the car dealer to reset the top speed to 60 mph - thereby virtually eliminating any possibility that the teen would exceed that limit, whether inadvertently, or because of alcohol, racing, or the urging of his teen passengers.”

“For more experienced teen drivers, parents could have the top speed of their child's new car reset to a more reasonable 70, 75, or even 80 mph," suggests Banzhaf.

Even an 80 mph speed limit, which is much higher than any teen would realistically need given current speed limits in most locations, would prevent the all-too-common accident where teens - sometimes while racing, sometimes while drunk, and sometimes at the urging of peers in the passenger seats - drives at 90 mph or above and puts not only himself and his passengers, but also everyone in other vehicles, at a very high risk of a very serious and often fatal accident.

A driver whose speed is no more than 80 mpg is obviously far less likely to have an accident than the same driver under the same road conditions going 90, 100, or even 120 mph. The differential between his speed and that of other vehicles on the road, the distance he would need to stop the car in an emergency, etc. are all much less, says Banzhaf, noting reports by the European Road Safety Observatory [ERSO].

Moreover, even if an accident did occur, it will almost always be less severe. In general, an accident at 120 mph is about 125% more severe than one occurring at 80 mph, even though the first vehicle is traveling only 50% faster. This is because the severity of the accident is directly related to the energy the vehicle possesses, which is proportional not to the speed but to the square of the speed, says Banzhaf, noting that this is simple physics backed up by reports by ERSO.
Contact Information
George Washington University Law School
Public Interest Law Professor John Banzhaf
202 994-7229 // 703 527-8418

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