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Auto Manufacturers: Is Safety Secondary?

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Rebecca Bond, from Orange Park, Florida was driving her 1997 Ford Explorer last June, 2005 when she ran off the road.

The car rolled over five times after hitting a signpost. "The airbag didn't inflate and my wife was knocked unconscious when it flipped," says husband Mackenzie Bond. "She hit her head on top of the steering wheel and hit the roof -- she is lucky to be alive."

The car was totaled and Rebecca is still suffering from back problems. "I bought this vehicle specifically for its [supposed] safety reasons," Bond says. "I wrote to Ford and never had a response, not a word. This is really frustrating; I am hot about what happened."

The Public Citizens' [Auto Safety Group] hears stories like this often. Deputy director Laura MacCleerly thinks that "the auto industry fights any improvement with anything it has, because of its bottom line."

"There is a general unwillingness to make fundamental safety equipment standard because the industry seeks to preserve marketing over safety, such as side-impact airbags," she says.

Consumers will pay extra for package options on high-ticket vehicles. "Once auto makers have made the investment in development safety technology, they essentially want to bill the more affluent consumers a premium, so they will bundle things like airbags together in a package," says MacCleerly. The Group believes that the solution to this problem is to have safety standards. "That way, the economy of scale works for all consumers and brings down costs, and at the same time lives are saved."

"In the US, the National Highway Safety Administration is supposed to make this happen but the auto industry has a lot of influence [including Washington], and the auto makers pull strings with funds. They aren't allowed to actually pay outright [for this influence], but they exercise influence in other ways," says MacCleerly.

Are some manufacturers worse than others when it comes to safety? Based on a study of death rates by make and model of vehicles, the European luxury brands and SAAB are safest, followed by Japanese and then US domestics. The older model Korean manufacturers such as Hyundai are the worst. According to the Auto Safety Group, the Volvo brand of Ford does a better job on safety and Toyota is getting better. Chrysler, GM and Ford are far behind the eight ball.

Meanwhile, organizations such as the Auto Safety Group lobby for new legislation, and litigate against the government when it betrays the public trust. There are far too many broken vehicles, broken dreams, and broken people. Isn't it time that auto manufacturers placed safety first?


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