[extropy-chat] Driver safety and the immortalist

Brian Atkins brian at posthuman.com
Tue Jul 6 17:22:11 UTC 2004

I think that after you learn to drive as defensively as possible, 
including increasing your situational awareness to the max, there isn't 
much else you can do after that, but one additional factor is probably 
determining what vehicle to drive.

There has been a small amount of discussion of this previously here. 
Some people seem to think that the top priority in vehicle safety should 
be maneuverability (like a sports car) while others think the best is a 
large massive vehicle (like a midsize or greater SUV).

The RD article makes a point against the idea that you can maneuver your 
way out of some accidents. In the head-on collision it profiled the 
expert said: "It doesn't appear that Swann had time to take evasive 
action. It was over in a second,". So there are roughly two sets of 
possibilities I think - 1. The event that is causing the threat is so 
sudden that even in a high end sports car you have no chance to evade it 
2. The event happens far enough away to give even a large SUV time to 
avoid it - for instance if someone starts veering into your lane far 
enough away that you can notice it and slow down or get out the way.

So in case that you can see the danger coming a sports car probably 
doesn't provide any significant advantage. And in cases where you don't 
see it coming or see it too late it isn't going to help either. If you 
are going to eventually suffer a major crash (and odds say you will 
eventually if you drive long enough) then physics says in general the 
more massive vehicle in the crash will suffer lower accelerations / 
forces and will therefore be less likely to cause damage to its 
occupants. I think it's also worth considering that a good sports car 
will also tempt even the safest of drivers to occasionally go on a high 
speed / high risk jaunt.

For some good information I also recommend looking at this PDF:

"Are SUVs safer than cars? An analysis of risk by vehicle type and model"

Slide 17 in there shows decreasing risk to drivers as the mass of the 
vehicle climbs. The report seems to try to downplay that correlation, 
but I don't find it convincing. Slide 19 also shows that more expensive 
vehicles are safer.

There are also other nice tidbits in there like: foreign car designs are 
in general safer than domestic, some compact or even subcompact cars 
have pretty good safety, foreign luxury cars are generally safest, etc.

My suggestions:

1. If possible, try to live close to work / minimize car travel. Even if 
the housing there costs a bit more you might make it up in reduced car 
insurance, reduced car depreciation, reduced car operating expenses, etc.

2. It is probably worth the money to buy / maintain a vehicle with a 
larger-than-average mass IF the vehicle is also well-designed: it has 
modern safety features like side / head airbags, above average handling 
/ accident avoidance capability, and also has clearly shown to be safe 
in side, offset, and head-on crash testing. For example, the new model 
Ford F-150 is a massive truck with side airbags available, yet in offset 
crash testing performs very poorly due to structural design flaws that 
allow significant deformation of the driver's space. On the other hand 
many minivans weigh a bit less but perform much better in testing. So 
you have to do some homework.
Brian Atkins
Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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