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Don’t Be A Crash Dummy! – Traffic Safety in Singapore

Posted by intellisg on May 14, 2007

dummy1.jpg“All bus stops will be reviewed to see IF they need to be fitted with safety bollards.”

Land Transport Authority (LTA) Spokesperson. 04 May 2007

Safety bollards (1m high) are made of steel sections filled with concrete, and are used to absorb part of the impact if a vehicle runs out of control. Safety bollards have been installed at 1,500 bus stops since 1999. The review to incorporate them to cover the rest of bus stops island wide comes after another accident last Tuesday, this time involving a bus stop that did not feature safety bollards. The outcome was tragic, three women were killed and four others seriously hurt when a car ploughed into a crowded bus stop at Bendemeer Road in May 1998. Neither is this an isolated incident either in September 2003, six people were injured, three critically, when a car slammed into a bus stop in front of Jurong Camp in Upper Jurong Road. And in June 1997, one man was killed and two others were injured when a car rammed into a bus stop at Lavender Street.

It raises the question how safe are bollards in reality? And the broader question of how do we manage the safety factor and what actually forms much of this science of risk management?

In this special investigative report, the brotherhood press has assembled a scientific team to examine much of the science of safety and bring to the fore front some disturbing issues which you simply need to know – if you don’t want to end up as a crash dummy!

(1) Hey look Mom! I am a crash dummy!- a brief history of cars.

In the history of the automotive industry, few things have been quite as unexpected as the rise of the SUV’s (sports utility vehicles). Automotive engineers like to believe that there is some connection between the success of a vehicle and its technical merits. But the SUV boom was like Coca-Cola bringing back Coke classic, dressing up something old and trite to create a new market segment. It made no technical sense, but that didn’t mean it didn’t make a lot of marketing sense – in fact, the SUV market is the fastest growing segment in the automotive industry a true blue eyed boy. This raises the question how safe are SUV’s actually?

The marketing manifesto reads – the customer is always right – and right now they were saying

“Bigger is better!” But hold on a moment, let’s just consider the practical merits of a four-wheel drive – most consumers don’t need one. There are no safaris or moats to traverse in Singapore. No hopping kangaroos who are likely to implant themselves on your bonnet either to cause you to loose control and steer off the side of a cliff. So what gives? What’s the appeal that drives the feeding frenzy on SUV’s? And what does this all have to do with the issue of safety?

Buyers said they preferred the elevated driving position. But in focus groups, when marketing researchers probed further, they heard feed back that left them dumb founded. As Braddsher writes in his latest book dummy2.jpg“High and Mighty,” what consumers said was “If the vehicle is up high, it’s easier to see ahead if a rock or something is up front. It doesn’t make much sense, but then again it isn’t supposed too” Bradsher brilliantly captures the mixture of bafflement and contempt that many auto engineers feel towards customers who buy SUV’s.

Dr Chandra, a top AI expert who has extensive knowledge in psychology says,

“Sport-utility owners tend to be using their cars as an outer expression of ego. Most of the time when they drive those muscle machines it’s a trade off between the great “I” like “I wonder do people view me as the master of the universe,” (hard to see it that way, if they are picking their nose in a traffic light) and so they don’t really bother to question beyond the trade off safety or functionality…..the sad thing about all that of course is they are all getting a lousy deal and would probably end up as crash dummies….SUV’s are just not safe!”

According to Dr Chandra who has done numerous research studies concerning human cognitive behavior between man and machine interfaces. Consumers who usually buy SUV’s tend to fall into a specific category where they are usually

“Self-absorbed and trying to make up for some deficit in character which they feel driving a big car would redress – it doesn’t of course – that’s why most of the time, the people who drive the most powerful mighty SUV’s is actually your pint sized auntie who wears bi-focals. Just the right candidate to test a bollard on a bus stop if you ask me. If you think real hard about it those people have absolutely no business in my view to be in charge of so much horsepower because they don’t even know the first thing about how to manage it. They should be ridding a electric motor tricycle with a basket or something.”

2. The illusion of safety – closer to imagination than reality.

The myth that drives the demand for SUV’s, seems to be based closer to the imagination than reality i.e the perception high, big, heavy vehicles as safer when compared to ordinary cars. How does this compare with reality?

To engineers, of course, SUV’s don’t make much sense.

In a fifty k.p.h. crash test, for instance, the driver of a Honda accord —has a sixteen-per-cent chance of a life-threatening head injury, a twenty-per-cent chance of a life-threatening chest injury, and a thirty-five-per-cent chance of a leg injury. Conduct the same test on a range of commercially sold SUV’s—and the difference is only a two per cent variation in the comparative safety index! Source: NSTB test June 2006.

“But no one ever said the desire for safety larger bumpers, or more steel in front or even larger and sturdier bollards on bus stops was had anything to do with logic or rational calculation. That’s the whole problem, its got nothing to do with common sense and even less to do with how safe a bollard is or isn’t. That’s what really disturbs when we typically talk about safety and risk.” Dr Chandra adds.

“You see most of it (safety) is imagined. So it’s got more to do with feeling or more accurately the perception of safety rather than real or empirical risk.”

Dr Chandra goes on to add:

“In the past decade, producers especially in the automotive industry are getting really scientific about marketing. Look here, ten years ago, no one would ever engage me as a consultant to help them sell more shavers, cars or shoe polish. They would probably give me $2 and ask me to fix their air conditioner or something.

But these days marketer are tapping into a whole range of sciences out there to help them sell more stuff – its demand driven and that means getting down to the root of selling and you can’t do that unless you really have the science to get beyond the rational—into the brain of the buyer.

So if you look at this whole SUV craze it just a very basic ‘survival’ response. It’s monkey business – that’s to say it’s got more to do with our ancient ancestors who once lived in a cave somewhere in Bedok.

The whole feeling of being high up there in a SUV, there’s this powerful notion of perceived safety or superiority. That of course is a big fat engineering contradiction, because if these dainty pint sized aunties who buy these SUV’s think beyond the proto-humanoid level using their cortex instead of two cells in their gut. They would realize chances of a rolling over or losing traction control is significant higher in a SUV.

But at the reptilian level they fall into what I call the “safety- perception- trap.” I know a lot about this area because for years, we have been trying to make robots stand instead of falling over and killing some poor student and I can tell you this plays havoc on our insurance premium. We have done everything, gyroscopic stabilizers even complex stability flux algorithm. Hey all those stuff don’t work. Darkness is right, all you need to solve the problem is put the heavy stuff near the floor and keep top light, that’s it! Bingo! You cant run away from basic engineering – and that’s what those SUV manufacturers seem to be doing and no one is stopping them, except me Dr Chandra, that’s why they call me, ‘the light.’

What really scares me about consumers these days is that it’s amazing that seemingly intelligent, educated consumers will look at a car and the first thing they will zoom in on: is how many cup holders it has or how big is the vanity mirror. That’s the puzzle of what has happened to the automobile world: feeling safe has become more important than actually being safe and cup holders and make up mirrors are more important than engineering reality – so now you know why people who wait at bus stop typically seek homily sugary comfort in bollards, but in reality it adds nothing to the safety factor. You might as well be ploughed down any where along a road, not necessarily a bus stop even, though for some reason they seem to attract to the worse drivers. I don’t know those bus stops must be magnetic or something! Better get Astro Boy to ferret out that possibility – I see a conspiracy theory here! I demand a thorough investigation on the LTA!”

3. Lets get the low down – Q: What’s safe and what isn’t Dr Chandra?

Dr Chandra:

“Hey that’s a really dumb question! But OK we are all crash dummies for the next 15 minutes, so let me oblige you. In the EU, most drivers define a safe car as a responsive driving machine. That’s why BMW, typically market their cars as “the ultimate driving machine” and Audi does roughly the same. The whole idea is a play on the control element and tying it with in with safety or rather the perception of it i.e the more control, the safer it actually is. So if you look at most cars manufactured in the EU a lot of engineering stuff goes into prioritizing the control features – the steering is sharp and precise, under steering is nominal, traction control, braking efficiency etc. But in every case the car is close to the ground to lower its center of gravity. Now what I need to emphasize here is everything here is working against the perception of safety, but believe it or not, it’s actually a safer car.

An SUV however embodies the opposite logic. The driver is seated as high and far from the road as possible. The vehicle is designed to plough through obstacles like a tank, not to negotiate nimbly around it. Even four-wheel drive, seemingly the most beneficial feature of the SUV, serves no real purpose unless you want to drive it vertically into your living room in your HDB. Hey what are you going to do chase cheetahs in the ECP? Is the LTA going to turn the ECP into a giant moat? Let’s get real my point is half the things they throw in these days into a SUV serves no functional purpose except to sell more cars.

For example, I think its very important to know the cabin temp, but why the hell do I need to know the temp outside for? Unless I am an environmental fundamentalist who wants to save the world by frying an egg on his bonnet using solar power. Get what I mean. SUV’s are unsafe because they make their drivers feel safe. That feeling of safety isn’t the solution; it’s the problem. If I had my way, I would ban them! And issue out free therapy coupons to anyone who whines – they need it, trust me something below the belt isn’t working too well. They need to see a plumber or something, I don’t know.”

4. Summary – Safety is your responsibility!

So my advice to anyone waiting in the bus stop is safety is relative. I mean if you are just relying on a bollard to save your ass, then I think you are really dumb, because it could be some Bangladeshi construction worker just didn’t bother to drive that bollard deep enough and you could just as well end up with it implanted in your head, if a car hits it. Neither do I think, it’s practical to keep reinforcing bus stops no end, unless we all want to wait in some military bunker. Even then its not exactly missile proof either. You get what I mean right – safety bollard or safety SUV or anything is just relative to ones perception. In my view you could just as well increase your factor of safety ten or twenty fold by increasing your situational awareness 500% by turning off your ipod and not reading comics while waiting for the bus!

All I am saying is your chance of being mowed down is roughly equal to anywhere on a busy side walk. Having said that, I am not saying, it pays dividends to take cover behind a fish ball chomping auntie. All I am saying is risk calculations or mitigation is pretty screwy and you could just as well be crushed by a 2 metric ton auntie who suffers a coronary heart attack or end up being a bonnet mascot if a car ploughs into a bollard. To say that a two or three bollards strategically placed will mean you live or die just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me that all.

When the dainty pint sized auntie drops in, in her muscle SUV, its any ones guess, you, I or they will just go up in the air like a pack of cards and we just have to hope that we land on all fours – that’s life really, its never risk free, only free of risk and even that is closer to imagination than reality – but its nice to have fantasies – live would be unbearable without them.”

(Scholarboy, Repairman & Astro Boy [exclusive interview with Dr Chandra] – Socio / Science –EP 9992782 -2007 – The Brotherhood Press 2007)

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7 Responses to “Don’t Be A Crash Dummy! – Traffic Safety in Singapore”

  1. KiWeTO said

    Hi,

    In SG, there is absolutely no real reason to know the outside temperature (since it really never changes much).

    However, in other countries, where it can vary by quite a bit as you travel around, knowing the outside temperature is part of the information required to make driving decisions.

    But ye, SUVs really don’t do much except for the ego.

    E.o.M.

  2. Atomic Monkey said

    Sir,

    Why is it so hard to make a robot stand up without falling over?

    Humorous and entertaining article about safety and risk management.

    Reg

    Atomic M

  3. pumpman said

    I never knew SUVs were that dangerous, very informative and enlightening sir and glad to see you adding to the bro press.

  4. Aibo said

    Dear Dr Chandra,

    Glad to see that you have made another surprise appearance again! This time on the b’hood press!

    I just want to say, I have always found the b’hood press an interesting read and I am sure with you as a guest contributor things can only improve. Really this article will I am sure break all pre-existing records!

    I just want to take on what you mentioned abt safety being largely perception driven – do you really believe enough has been done recently to convince the public that bus stops and pedestrians are sufficiently safe from negligent drivers.

    You know I notice these days the new bus stops are not like the old ones. In the case of the old bus stops they are open from all direction making it possible for one to avoid a crashing car, if there is time that is. However in the newer type bus stops due to presumably advertizing and $ considerations too many obstacles and obstructions simply means in an emergency users cannot get away from a run away car.

    Perhaps I am just being nostalgic and I prefer those orange and cream bus stops, but really I feel safer for some reason. Another thing is when it rains, one can always get up and stand on those seats. You cant do that now with the modern ones.

    Pls convey my warmest regards to Mr Darkness.

  5. Tan.B.L said

    Yes. Very timely and relevant read. With drink driving in the fore front these days and TCS actors getting into all sorts of scrapes. This should go down very nicely and I do commend you all for the choice. Btw who is the editor in charge? Or do things just get produced on the go? It would be interesting to know how you boys work?

    I also like the way the broader subject of safety is handled alongside a discussion with SUV’s and bollards. Very nicely done. Only this do pay closer attention to the spelling and grammar. Once again I cannot be sure whether this is all deliberately inserted to give the b’hood articles a sort of amatuerish underground naughty boy patina. Is it? I really dont think it serves any purpose to be quite honest with you. Most of your readers already know you ppl are not some top secret organization.

    Very well done and do keep it up IS and the B’hood.

  6. lazysusan said

    Dear Editor of the Bro Press,

    As much as I enjoyed the article featuring Dr Chandra. I do feel there was definitely a gender slant in the way it was either written or presented. I am not going to finger Dr Chandra bc I strongly it could be the work of that idiot Astro Boy, but there are really too many gender specific references to draw from – I really cant be bothered to highlight them here.

    Once again a great subject and all in all very entertaining article, but regrettably it has been spoiled once again by disparaging and denigrating sexist remarks which really should have no place here!

  7. caleb & Co said

    Hi,

    Hilariously funny – had some of us flat out on the floor laughing our heads off. I enjoyed this segment tremendously and to be really truthful to you never ever made the connection that SUVs were not that safe.

    Someone told me just over lunch, “you know what reading the bro press actually makes you smarter.” I really have to agree with that this time.

    However, most of the time, I still believe all of you just write a whole lot of shit! 😉

    I like this segment of the psychology of safety and managing risk – I wonder whether it is possible to expand on it further given that Dr Chandra is obviously very well versed in the subject.

    Great Job and I am sure this one will score very high on the read list. I just went around lunch time around my floor and 90% of the people are tuned into this page!

    You chaps aren’t dummies after all 🙂

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