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Dynamic Chiropractic – November 2, 1998, Vol. 16, Issue 23

Automotive Safety News

By Arthur Croft, DC, MS, MPH, FACO
NHTSA Recalls Infant Seats

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission have announced the recall of some 800,000 "Evenflo On My Way" infant car seat/carriers due to a defect that can potentially injure infants.

The recall affects model numbers 207 and 492 manufactured between the dates of December 15, 1995 and July 27, 1997.

You can obtain a repair kit from Evenflo. The kit requires only the use of a screwdriver. You can call NHTSA's toll-free hotline at (800) 424-9393 for more information. They also have a web site at


55 mph or 65 mph?

We all remember the long lines at gas stations and the odd/even day routines during the 1970s gas crunch. The national maximum speed limit (NMSL) was enacted by Congress in 1974 as a temporary energy conservation measure. With the passing of the National Highway System Designation Act in 1995, the NMSL was repealed, with a return of enforcement of speed limits to individual states. Many states (including California) have subsequently raised the maximum speed limit to 65 mph on many highway systems. According to data from NHTSA, this had the effect of raising the fatality count by 350 in 1996. This is based upon the number expected from historical trends.


Primary Belt Laws

According to Inroads,1 15 states and the District of Columbia have enacted primary use enforcement laws to increase safety belt use. These states include: Alaska; Arizona; California; Colorado; Florida; Georgia; Iowa; Louisiana; Maryland; New Mexico; New York; North Carolina; Oklahoma; and Oregon. With a primary law, you can be pulled over and cited based solely upon the fact that you are not wearing your safety belts. In states with secondary use laws, you won't be pulled over because of this negligent behavior, but if pulled over for another reason (e.g., moving violation or equipment violation), you can then be cited if you are not wearing your safety belt. The National Safety Council has estimated that if all states were to enact and enforce primary use laws there would be 1,700 fewer fatalities and 30,000 fewer injuries each year in this country, with a savings of $2.8 billion in crash-related costs.


Zero Tolerance BAC in Kids

All 50 states have now enacted zero tolerance laws which make it illegal for drivers under the age of 21 to have any measurable (>0.02 BAC) blood alcohol concentration. Several studies have demonstrated that such zero tolerance laws can reduce fatalities in underage drinking drivers significantly. Since 1982, the U.S. alcohol-related fatality rate among youngsters has been cut in half, dropping from 22 per 100,000 to 10 per 100,000.


New Air Bag for Your Feet

The latest in air bag technology comes from Autoliv, Inc. in the form of the Inflatable Carpet ("InCa") and is designed to prevent injuries to car occupants' ankles, feet, and legs in frontal crashes in which toe pan intrusion occurs. According to the company, the InCa system will reduce foot acceleration by up to 65%, and tibia force by up to 50%.1


Wireless Communication News

NHTSA has a project called automatic crash notification (ACN) which promises to have great potential for adding to road safety and rescue operations related to car crashes. Vehicles would be equipped with recording sensors which could transmit -- by cellular phone technology -- information about the initial velocity, delta V (change of velocity), principle direction of force and, most importantly, the precise location of the crash.

This transmission would be triggered automatically by impact activation and could alert emergency services immediately. The system would surely improve the outcome of those severely injured. (I recall seeing a man on the nightly news not long back who had lost control of his car and slide over an embankment in a fairly urban area. His car sat unobserved for three days while he struggled inside, trapped and injured, unable to extricate himself.)

This system is likely to be in place in the near future, alongside satellite navigation systems. GM's ONSTAR system and Ford's RESCU system are already in place are already in production vehicles and represent an initial step in the direction of ACN.


Air Bag "On/Off" Switches

Effective January 19, 1998, NHTSA began approving the installation of air bag on/off switches in cars not already so equipped. I reported the details of this in an earlier article here in Dynamic Chiropractic. Essentially, you can request such a modification for medical reasons (and a note from the doctor is necessary), due to short stature (in which case the sternum, in the normal driving position, is within 10 inches of the steering wheel & dash, a proximity known to introduce a high risk of injury), and in the case where a passenger side bag must be disabled to allow the carrying of an infant carrier or child car seat. This latter scenario would be permissible only in cars that have no back seat.

As of the first quarter of 1998, only about 20,000 authorizations had been granted for almost 25,000 switches (16,000 driver side and 8,500 passenger side). The number of actual requests received by NHTSA, however, was not mentioned in the article.1 The most reasons given by motorists for their request for the on/off switches were: 1) proximity to the steering wheel (79%); 2) medical reasons (5% -- just what medical conditions would realistically make driving without the supplemental air bag system safer are unclear, and I think this is likely to be a questionable reason for a switch in most cases); and 3) a combination of distance to steering wheel and medical reasons (16%). For passenger side air bags, the need to transport children was given as the chief reason for the switches. Only about 300 dealers had reported installing the switches -- which can only be done with permission of NHTSA -- with many refusing the service out of fear of liability suits.


The Pregnant Abdomen and Car Crashes

As I have taught for many years, women should continue to use lap and shoulder belts during all phases of pregnancy. The most recent issue of Inroads1 contained an editorial on the pregnant driver and fetal deaths due to car crashes. They pointed out that there are no official records relating to crash-induced fetal deaths, although it has been estimated that between 1700 and 5300 occur each year in this country. The most common cause of fetal death in these circumstances is thought to be a traumatic abruptio placentae, accounting for as much as 50-70% of cases. Due to placental separation, the flow of oxygen to the fetus is diminished or lost. Maternal death, which accounts for about 10% of cases, is the second most common factor in fetal death.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends the use of the three-point belt (standard on most passenger cars today), with the lap portion worn below the abdomen and just across the pelvic region and the shoulder portion positioned over the upper part of the abdomen and between the breasts. It has also been recommended in the emergency medical literature that women who sustain any potential injury in a crash during their third trimester, undergo fetal heart rate monitoring and abdominal ultrasound.

Meanwhile, owing to the paucity of available data, researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute and the University of Michigan Health System are conducting detailed investigations of crashes involving pregnant women. The team is asking for support from field practitioners. However, only notifications of recent crashes are solicited. If you become aware of any such cases, it is requested that you first obtain permission from the woman, then contact the researchers by calling (800) 423-7507 and leave a message concerning the case.


Just for Fun

According to Road & Track magazine, a motorist caught in the act of speeding by a hidden camera was sent a ticket and a copy of the incriminating photograph. In response, the motorist sent the police a photograph of a check for the required fine. Apparently the British do have a sense of humor. The police sent the motorist a photograph of a set of handcuffs, which apparently had the desired effect: a check was sent soon thereafter.


  1. Inroads. Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine. 1998,5(1):3.

Arthur C. Croft, DC, MS, FACO
Director, Spine Research Institute of San Diego
San Diego, California

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