‘Curtain’ airbag call for cars

The Australian: ‘Curtain’ airbag call for cars [December 01, 2004]

CRASH testers have called for ‘curtain’ airbags that inflate down the side windows to be fitted to all cars and four-wheel-drives after research showed they can cut fatalities by up to 45 per cent.

In Victoria alone, 35 per cent of all road fatalities are due to side impacts when vehicles hit trees or telegraph poles — a figure that has remained constant over the past seven years, according to the RACV.

Latest tests by motoring bodies show curtain airbags give life-saving protection as they inflate in milliseconds in a side impact with a pole or another vehicle, protecting occupants’ heads from injury.

Future crash ratings will include the pole test with the most popular Australian sports utility vehicles next to come under scrutiny by Australia’s New Car Assessment Program.

Real-world crash analysis by the Monash University Accident Research Centre in Victoria shows that 4WDs have a higher rate of side impacts into poles and trees, compared with other vehicles.

Only a few local or imported vehicles, including 4WDs, have side curtain airbags available, while those that do have them only on premium models, often as optional equipment.

In calling for the safety device, the RACV’s chief engineer, Michael Case, announced yesterday that side impact pole testing would become a major part of ANCAP, a consortium of motoring organisations and government agencies. Although similar to testing in Europe and North America, the local test would be specific to Australia and, Mr Case said, be conducted at a speed of 29km/h.

Mr Case commended those car-makers that offered side airbags, which protected the chest and abdomen, but he said curtain airbags would provide added protection in side-on collisions involving trees, poles or other high-fronted vehicles such as 4WDs.

‘The message is clear. Curtain airbags will save lives and reduce injuries, and should be adopted by manufacturers as quickly as possible,’ he said.

‘If they can’t cost them in as standard equipment, then make them available as an option. Let the consumer choose.’

ANCAP currently tests vehicles in frontal collisions and side impacts with other vehicles in a world-recognised five-star crash rating system.

The RACV, along with VicRoads, TAC and the NRMA are currently testing six popular large four-wheel drives in the first side-impact pole tests done here. The findings will be published in April.

Although ANCAP will not reveal which 4WDs are being tested, it showcased the new program yesterday using a new Toyota Prado 4WD, fitted with curtain airbags, which had been crashed into a pole at 29km/h. The Prado has curtain airbags as standard on its luxury model.

Without the safety device, the driver and rear seat occupant could have been severely injured or killed, Mr Case said.”

4WD safety concerns confirmed

4WD safety concerns confirmed – www.theage.com.au

“Motorists who buy big four-wheel-drives to be safer on the roads could be doing the wrong thing, according to the latest crash research.

A study of more than one million crashes involving vehicles manufactured between 1982 and 2000 has revealed higher injury rates for people in four-wheel-drives.

The study, by the NRMA and the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA), pointed to the high instance of four-wheel-drives rolling when involved in a single-vehicle crash.

‘While 16 per cent of the serious injuries in large car single vehicle crashes are due to a rollover, the rate for 4WDs is 41 per cent,’ RTA’s general manager of road safety Soames (Soames) Job said.

‘While this problem has long been suspected due to the higher centre of gravity of 4WDs, this data confirms the effect.

‘The overall risk of injury for drivers of 4WDs in rollover crashes is the highest of all vehicle types, followed by commercial vehicles, medium cars, large cars and sports cars.’

Dr Job said the study showed that vehicle manufacturers needed to move swiftly to introduce stability controls for vehicles most likely to roll.

NRMA spokesman Jack Haley said it also identified the best and worst among secondhand cars when it came to protecting drivers in single-vehicle crashes.

The best was the Mitsubishi Lancer followed by the Ford AU Falcon and the VT/VX Holden Commodore.

While the worst was the Toyota Landcruiser followed by the Toyota 4Runner and the Holden Rodeo.

‘Overall, drivers in vehicles that rated the poorest are five times more likely to be seriously injured than those drivers in the best performing cars,’ Mr Haley said.

‘These results highlight just how important it is for motorists to have safety at the top of their mind when looking to purchase a vehicle.

‘They also reinforce NRMA’s view that all vehicles, especially small ones, should be available with a full package of front, side and head-protecting airbags.'”

Merry Christmas, but take care….

A HORRIFIC crash near Ballarat yesterday has claimed the lives of a woman and a teenage girl, believed to be a mother and daughter, and left another man fighting for life in a Melbourne hospital.

The 37-year-old woman and the 13-year-old girl, who were passengers in the late model Holden four-wheel-drive (Über Kiwi comment: a Holden Jackaroo) were killed instantly in the accident, which happened shortly before 6pm.

Ambulance crews worked frantically for an hour on the 40-year-old male driver, believed to be the woman’s partner, who was placed on life support to stabilise him before he was airlifted to The Alfred at 7.30pm.

The man, who suffered major head injuries in the crash, was in a critical condition last night.

“His injuries are significant and life-threatening,” said Rural Ambulance Victoria area manager Stephen Ford.

An eight-year-old girl, believed to be the couple’s daughter, also in the vehicle was taken by ambulance to Ballarat Health Services Base Hospital with minor injuries.

Sgt Chris Carnie, from the major collision investigation unit, said the car had been travelling towards Melbourne and was approaching a left-hand bend when the driver apparently lost control of the car.

“He tried to regain control of the vehicle, but was unable to do so and the vehicle has rolled,” he said. “Paramedics have told us an eight-year-old girl was outside the car when they arrived, sitting by the side of the road.”

“Police said the late-model gold Holden was travelling towards Melbourne when it is believed to have blown a tyre, causing the male driver to lose control.

CFA, police and ambulance crews attended the scene with rescue crews cutting open the roof of the vehicle to free the man and eight-year-old.



Wendouree CFA Captain Hans Van Hamond said it was a heart-wrenching job
for rescuers as they arrived to find the family trapped in the vehicle,
their personal belongings scattered along a 50m length of the freeway.

Magazines, a mobile phone, shoes and books lay as tragic markers of the
four-wheel drive’s final journey before coming to rest on its side next
to the road.

“It’s one of those jobs nobody wants to see or go to,” Capt Van Hamond

“We all have families ourselves. It’s fairly devastating to see the end
result and often once you are here there’s not a lot you can do.”


It is believed the family was returning home for Christmas.”

“It is a tragedy and doubly so at Christmas,” Sergeant Chris Carnie of
the major collision investigation unit said. “We have a family that has
been decimated and won’t be celebrating at all.”


Car Safety Update

One of the world’s leading authorities on road safety, Anders Lie, visited Melbourne recently to outline Sweden’s goal of a zero road toll. An in-depth interview was published in ‘Drive’, The Age’s motoring section, see the link following for the full article. I found the following comments interesting – actually the whole article is interesting – but the follwoing was of particular interest…

Drive.com.au: “‘I’ve done a study to look at the correlation between the EuroNCAP results and real-life crashes, and it shows a very good correlation so far. That’s something that has to be done now and again to check that. We studied 4000-5000 crashes with EuroNCAP-tested cars,’ Mr Lie says.

Published results showed a 12 percent severe injury reduction per star.

That has meant a rethink on the prevailing wisdom of what constituted a safe family car. A decade ago, Mr Lie says, it was typical to advise a family to buy a three- or four-year-old ex-company car, such as a Saab or Volvo. ‘Today it’s almost better to recommend someone to buy a brand-new but somewhat smaller car, because the safety development has been so rapid — especially in the small cars,’ he says.

Mr Lie argues the lower mass of smaller cars is only a problem in head-on collisions with larger cars, which account for about 15 percent of crashes. The other 85 percent, he says, are not really mass-sensitive.

The safety features Mr Lie rates highly include a full array of airbags (frontal, side and curtain — he drives an aluminium Audi A2 with six airbags), electronic stability systems and Mercedes-Benz’s Pre-Safe system, which pre-emptively activates safety systems when the car detects a crash is imminent.

A study last year Mr Lie conducted with fellow road safety scholar Professor Claes Tingvall into electronic stability programs (ESP) turned up remarkable results.

Cars equipped with ESP were involved in 20 percent fewer crashes overall. In marginal weather conditions, the technology had a greater effect. On wet roads, it reduced the number of crashes by 30 percent, and by 40 percent on ice and snow.

‘They are very high numbers,’ Mr Lie says. ‘It seems to have about the same importance as an airbag — and that is, of course, a very big thing. We are strongly promoting cars with electronic stability programs on Swedish roads. The same type of results have been shown by Merc”

Other safety stuff in the news recently:

Highest scoring vehicle assessed by Australian NCAP: Subaru Liberty 2004 – on

More on ESP/ESC here

Drivers with side-impact airbags that protect the head are 45 percent more likely to survive being “T-boned” than those without, according to a new US study of real-world crashes. Actually, the article linked to is not the one I was reading recently – lost the link, but similar results. Basically side airbags or curtain airbags have been proven to have as big an effect on survivability as fitting front airbags to cars did originally.

A good place to go for further info: http://www.crashtest.com/

After hours in the queues, tins of biscuits will do nicely

My wife is traumatised from Christmas shopping in Melbourne. The traffic is mad, even mild mannered people are turning into road rage poster boys. People are tearing around the supermarket with their trolleys pushing and shoving, the queues in shops are full of nasty people. This article made me laugh and I post here for my wife, who will probably never see it.

Richard Glover – www.smh.com.au

Burwood Westfield is packed with shoppers. I can’t imagine how they could squeeze one more person in here. It’s like that Guinness Book of Records stunt, in which 47 teenagers tried to get into a Volkswagen.

Just getting a park is a major battle. In the parking lot, drivers circle like predatory lions, waiting for a weary shopper to appear pushing a trolley. As soon as we spot one, we try to be the first to pounce – claiming the shopper as our own. We motor along behind, with our front bumper bar as close as possible to the prey. No way is anybody else going to get this guy’s spot: he’s mine.

The process is without major danger: providing the shopper doesn’t stop suddenly.

Once I snare a park, I battle my way inside the centre and into the sea of frantic shoppers. People are desperate to buy. They heave themselves at displays of fancy soap like Russians in a bread riot. All the soaps have got these girly-posh names like Evelyn and Trilby, or Figtree and Algernon, but there’s nothing girly-posh about the shopping style. I see one woman shoulder through the crowd and grab hold of a gift pack of Somerset and Stevens Lavender Infusion, before letting loose a little vicious mumble.

“That’s Auntie June done,” she says to her friend, using the word “done” in much the same tone as a Mafia hit-man standing back to admire his latest bloodied corpse.

Not that I’m being critical. I know the problem. You trudge through crowds hoping that something will suggest itself; that the perfect gift will suddenly materialise before your eyes. The problem of what to get Uncle Steve or young cousin Trish is so intractable, so beyond all human understanding, that you can’t bear thinking about it. You try to focus on it, but the mind is unwilling: it just keeps shying away, like a horse unwilling to attempt a particularly difficult jump. Far better, you decide, to wander aimlessly until something suggests itself.

The result, some three hours later, is a desperation so intense and palpable that almost everything starts to look just perfect.

“Kitty litter? Well, she does have a cat, and if I wrapped it prettily …”

“Socks? Well, he does have legs …”

“A skateboard? Actually a lot of people in their 80s take it up …”

I’ve seen the desperation from both sides of the counter. As a teenager, I used to work in my father’s newsagency for the week before Christmas, and I have a vivid recollection of how people would queue up and down the shop, with piles of merchandise in their arms, picking up more from the stands as they waited to be served. Every time they picked up a product, they could cross a name off their list. And so desperate were they to cross off names, they hardly even looked at what they were picking up.

“Surely young James would like a Yugoslav news magazine,” you could see them thinking as they added a well-thumbed copy of Nedeljni Telegraf to their pile. Or: “I think anyone, however old, can use a protractor and compass set.” Or: “This set of five rolls of masking tape would be an excellent surprise.”

My father would glance up at the lengthy queue as we raced to take their money. “You could sell ’em buckets of sand tonight,” he would mumble admiringly, as we threw some more coins in the till.

Back at Burwood, I watch as a man loads his trolley with what looks like a pallet-load of biscuits. They’re the same biscuits we all normally eat, but packaged in a Christmassy tin. This allows the manufacturer to charge five times more.

The man ends up with 10 tins in his trolley, which makes me wonder about the scene at his place on Christmas Day.

The first two or three relatives who open their presents may be able to feign surprise, but how about relative eight, nine and 10? “Wow, biscuits! I would never have guessed. I thought it might be a CD.”

I fight my way into the DVD shop, and then into the bookshop, and then the chemist, but I can’t find anything. I remember Jocasta’s father and his present-giving idea from her teenage years: each year he would give her money, but packed in an interesting way. One year, it was $1 notes pinned together to look like a piece of fabric; another year the notes were scattered through a copy of Bleak House. At the time, we mocked him for giving cash, but now I understand the enormous wisdom he displayed.

Today I shall retire defeated, ready to fight another day. I just wonder if Jocasta would be interested in a Yugoslav magazine, or maybe a lovely bucket of sand.


Iraqis have paid an immense price for the joys of democracy [ The Australian: December 11, 2004]

PHILLIP ADAMS, The Australian

IN one of the Iraq jokes ricocheting around the Internet, Donald Rumsfeld briefs Dubya on Fallujah.

“Mr President, while we will seek to minimise casualties, we expect that around 100,000 Iraqis will be killed – and an American dentist.”

“An American dentist?” asks a puzzled president.

“Exactly, sir! That’s what everyone will ask! No-one will give a damn about the Iraqis.”

A hundred thousand: I was citing that figure in columns months ago. NGOs and unembedded journalists were insisting that this was the magnitude of the civilian death toll. Now a study published in The Lancet proposes the same round figure. Note that we’re talking civilian deaths, not total casualties. The estimate – guesstimate – doesn’t include the far greater number of civilians maimed when they got in the way. And what would be the ratio of injuries to fatalities? Five to one? Ten?

Then factor in the casualties among the hapless conscripts in Saddam Hussein’s army. God knows how many died in Desert Storm. We don’t. Then, as now, the US refused to release figures – and in the aftermath of the first Gulf War, a humiliated Hussein wasn’t helping. However, we remember the notorious “turkey shoot” that massacred the shattered Iraqi Army retreating from Kuwait.

How many Iraqis died in Gulf Wars I and II? Three hundred thousand? Before you write angry letters to the editor, think carefully. Two wars costing the US billions of dollars have been fought. They have obliterated much of Iraq’s infrastructure, including that of the precious oil industry, and years of sanctions and the flow-on effects of the invasions have, according to all the NGOs operating in the region, led to horrendous outcomes in public health, or lack thereof. Indeed, 400,000 deaths may be a gross understatement. Certainly the Iraqis have paid an immense price for the joys of democracy. And will continue to do so.

Should an American dentist die in Fallujah, it will be because the US doesn’t want anyone to get their teeth into the topic. All we’re allowed to know, albeit reluctantly, is the number of US servicemen killed.

Since the invasion, PBS NewsHour has introduced us to more than 1100 of these blood sacrifices. In silence, they show us the faces of the dead kids. On a bad night you’ll see dozens of them, marines in their late teens and early twenties, almost invariably photographed at their graduation ceremony, in front of Old Glory.

Washington won’t admit to the number of young Americans who’ve lost their limbs, sight, or even their sanity in the carnage. The Pentagon recently confessed that “more than 15,000 troops with so-called ‘non-battle’ injuries and diseases had been evacuated from Iraq”. And that’s before the military casualties!

But back to The Lancet’s allegation that 100,000 civilians have died in the past 14 months. When I reported this in a recent column, a letter to the editor angrily accused me of fraud. The writer protested the methodology – wasn’t at all happy with the researchers choosing “33 allegedly random ‘clusters’” in Sunni hotspots like Fallujah, and complained of “heavy bias” being “exacerbated” by Iraqi interviewees providing their own “unverifiable family death statistics”.

Declaring the research “garbage”, he wrote that “anti-Bush Westerners such as Adams, embarrassed by the flowering of democracy in Afghanistan and dreading similar good news from Iraq, regarded it as useful garbage”.

Other letters were less sanguine, one pointing out that while a Fallujah cluster had been chosen, “the number of deaths was so large that the writers of the paper decided not to use it in the final figure”.

My principal problem with those protesting the 100,000 figure is that they themselves suffer from the “American dentist” syndrome. Their focus on the deaths of Americans provides support for the Islamist allegation of Western indifference to Muslim suffering. (The hostage-taking phenomenon provided evidence of this. While the world is properly horrified by the kidnapping and execution of Westerners, it fails to report that around 1000 Iraqis are stolen from the streets for every foreigner. Holding Iraqis for ransom is now a major criminal racket in Iraq – so out of control that many parents refuse to send their children to school.)

There has to be a day of reckoning on this wretched war. And in that reckoning we need more information than a rollcall of dead Americans. After all the disinformation on Iraq, the surviving defence for the invasion has been on moral grounds. The Coalition of the Willing was saving Iraq from despotism. If that’s the case, how many dead and devastated Iraqis are too many?

If we are to cling to the belief – I think the illusion – that this was a just war, then give us a number.

And let’s not be distracted by the dentist.

Smoking while Iraq burns

Guardian Unlimited | Guardian daily comment | Smoking while Iraq burns

Its idolisation of ‘the face of Falluja’ shows how numb the US is to everyone’s pain but its own

Naomi Klein
Friday November 26, 2004

The Guardian

Iconic images inspire love and hate, and so it is with the photograph of James Blake Miller, the 20-year-old marine from Appalachia, who has been christened “the face of Falluja” by pro-war pundits, and the “the Marlboro man” by pretty much everyone else.

U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller, aka “Marlboro Man,” in Fallujah, Iraq, Nov. 9.

Reprinted in more than a hundred newspapers, the Los Angeles Times photograph shows Miller “after more than 12 hours of nearly non-stop, deadly combat” in Falluja, his face coated in war paint, a bloody scratch on his nose, and a freshly lit cigarette hanging from his lips.

Gazing lovingly at Miller, the CBS News anchor Dan Rather informed his viewers: “For me, this one’s personal. This is a warrior with his eyes on the far horizon, scanning for danger. See it. Study it. Absorb it. Think about it. Then take a deep breath of pride. And if your eyes don’t dampen, you’re a better man or woman than I.”

A few days later, the LA Times declared that its photo had “moved into the realm of the iconic”. In truth, the image just feels iconic because it is so laughably derivative: it’s a straight-up rip-off of the most powerful icon in American advertising (the Marlboro man), which in turn imitated the brightest star ever created by Hollywood – John Wayne – who was himself channelling America’s most powerful founding myth, the cowboy on the rugged frontier. It’s like a song you feel you’ve heard a thousand times before – because you have.

But never mind that. For a country that just elected a wannabe Marlboro man as its president, Miller is an icon and, as if to prove it, he has ignited his very own controversy. “Lots of children, particularly boys, play army, and like to imitate this young man. The clear message of the photo is that the way to relax after a battle is with a cigarette,” wrote Daniel Maloney in a scolding letter to the Houston Chronicle. Linda Ortman made the same point to the editors of the Dallas Morning News: “Are there no photos of non-smoking soldiers?” A reader of the New York Post helpfully suggested more politically correct propaganda imagery: “Maybe showing a marine in a tank, helping another GI or drinking water would have a more positive impact on your readers.”

Yes, that’s right: letter writers from across the nation are united in their outrage – not that the steely-eyed, smoking soldier makes mass killing look cool, but that the laudable act of mass killing makes the grave crime of smoking look cool. Better to protect impressionable youngsters by showing soldiers taking a break from deadly combat by drinking water or, perhaps, since there is a severe potable water shortage in Iraq, Coke. (It reminds me of the joke about the Hassidic rabbi who says all sexual positions are acceptable except for one: standing up “because that could lead to dancing”.)

On second thoughts, perhaps Miller does deserve to be elevated to the status of icon – not of the war in Iraq, but of the new era of supercharged American impunity. Because outside US borders, it is, of course, a different marine who has been awarded the prize as “the face of Falluja”: the soldier captured on tape executing a wounded, unarmed prisoner in a mosque. Runners-up are a photograph of a two-year-old Fallujan in a hospital bed with one of his tiny legs blown off; a dead child lying in the street, clutching the headless body of an adult; and an emergency health clinic blasted to rubble.

Inside the US, these snapshots of a lawless occupation appeared only briefly, if they appeared at all. Yet Miller’s icon status has endured, kept alive with human interest stories about fans sending cartons of Marlboros to Falluja, interviews with the marine’s proud mother, and earnest discussions about whether smoking might reduce Miller’s effectiveness as a fighting machine.

Impunity – the perception of being outside the law – has long been the hallmark of the Bush regime. What is alarming is that it appears to have deepened since the election, ushering in what can only be described as an orgy of impunity. In Iraq, US forces and their Iraqi surrogates are no longer bothering to conceal attacks on civilian targets and are openly eliminating anyone – doctors, clerics, journalists – who dares to count the bodies. At home, impunity has been made official policy with Bush’s appointment of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general, the man who personally advised the president in his infamous “torture memo” that the Geneva conventions are “obsolete”.

This kind of defiance cannot simply be explained by Bush’s win. There has to be something in how he won, in how the election was fought, that gave this administration the distinct impression that it had been handed a get-out-of-the-Geneva-conventions free card. That’s because the administration was handed precisely such a gift – by John Kerry.

In the name of electability, the Kerry team gave Bush five months on the campaign trail without ever facing serious questions about violations of international law. Fearing that he would be seen as soft on terror and disloyal to US troops, Kerry stayed scandalously silent about Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. When it became painfully clear that fury would rain down on Falluja as soon as the polls closed, Kerry never spoke out against the plan, or against the other illegal bombings of civilian areas that took place throughout the campaign. When the Lancet published its landmark study estimating that 100,000 Iraqis had died as result of the invasion and occupation, Kerry just repeated his outrageous (and frankly racist) claim that Americans “are 90% of the casualties in Iraq”.

There was a message sent by all of this silence, and the message was that these deaths don’t count. By buying the highly questionable logic that Americans are incapable of caring about anyone’s lives but their own, the Kerry campaign and its supporters became complicit in the dehumanisation of Iraqis, reinforcing the idea that some lives are expendable, insufficiently important to risk losing votes over. And it is this morally bankrupt logic, more than the election of any single candidate, that allows these crimes to continue unchecked.

The real-world result of all the “strategic” thinking is the worst of both worlds: it didn’t get Kerry elected and it sent a clear message to the people who were elected that they will pay no political price for committing war crimes. And this is Kerry’s true gift to Bush: not just the presidency, but impunity. You can see it perhaps best of all in the Marlboro man in Falluja, and the surreal debates that swirl around him. Genuine impunity breeds a kind of delusional decadence, and this is its face: a nation bickering about smoking while Iraq burns.

· A version of this column was first published in The Nation