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News flash! Diana committed suicide!

And others court it--all those who ignore the sensible advice that comes from science and statistics.

Daniel Caton

Special to The Observer

Published: Thurday, March 18, 1999


Page 15A

Princess Diana's death was not an accident. It was suicide.

No—stop! You did not accidentally pick up a copy of the National Enquirer instead of the Observer. Read on.

My attention was drawn to auto accident studies by a recent story in the Observer, pointing out that drivers of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) are twice as likely to die in a rollover than drivers of other vehicles. These sporty vehicles have higher centers of gravity than other cars and in certain situations are more likely to tip over. This, coupled with the usual trend that new types of vehicles are first bought more by people that can afford them than by people who actually know how to drive them (or need them), creates a dangerous condition.

But buried in only two sentences in the article was the real cause of concern: three quarters of the deaths were of occupants not wearing their seat belts.

In the same paper as the SUV story was the report on country singer George Jones's near fatal accident. The King of Country was not belted in either.

A couple of weeks ago, during TV sweeps-week, PBS's Nova had a special on auto accidents. It showed a piece of video from a camera monitoring the German Autobahn, where drivers drive as fast as they wish (and at safety rates comparable to our own). In this piece, a driver lost control of a Mercedes convertible while driving 150 miles per hour. It flipped and slid 400 yards upside down before raking off a sign and coming to a stop. The driver then got out unharmed. The built in roll bar and seat belt made it possible. I guess that German drivers are not only more skillful drivers but smarter as well.

I am reminded of the case where Chrysler was forced to recall thousands of its popular minivans because in an accident the rear door could pop open, letting occupants be ejected. Excuse me, but why aren't the occupants buckled in? Chrysler had to take a hit because of irresponsible drivers.

Indeed, it is because we Americans would not buckle up that the industry was forced to come up with costly passive restraint systems such as automatic belts and air bags. And, now even more expensive modifications are now being proposed (see the story's Web reference) to deal with the7,500 ejections through the glass each year. Must we all pay for more expensive restraint systems because these bozos refuse to buckle up? Maybe we should just let Darwin's natural selection mechanism do its job.

I sometimes amuse myself while driving, pretending that other drivers give as much thought as I usually do to the surroundings. I even try to give other drivers "second order" clues to my intentions. Like coming to a full stop before exiting a parking lot onto a road, too allow their subconscious to note that I know they are coming and that I must wait for them to pass. Indeed, just obviously looking at them to let them know I know they are there. Most people I see pulling out are on a cell phone or looking in some other direction. Heck, most people don't even do the first order stuff, like using turn signals.

This lack of driving basic driving skills is rather appalling. In college I honed my driving skills by entering road rallys and autocrosses put on by local autosports clubs. In a road rally you drive a measured course following a list of instructions—left first opportunity after the third traffic light, for example. You learn something about driving precisely (and following directions). In autocrosses, you drive your street car through a race course marked out with cones on a parking lot—you against the clock, one car at a time. You learned about four wheel drifts, setting up for a turn, looking for the route ahead. No watching NASCAR roundy-rounds with a bag of chips and a Bud—this was a participant sport. Most of the people I see on the road could use such experience.

And Princess Di? In her accident only one person survived--the only one who was belted in. The passenger compartment was essentially intact. For a supposedly intelligent person to take the road unbelted, I must assume, indicates either a belief in immortality or a death wish. Suicide.

Statistical studies can be valuable, but only if we take heed of the results. It's the purpose of science and statistics to reveal the nature of our world and provide us with advice. Like, smoking kills. Or, seat belts save lives. The choice is then yours.

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