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Original Issue


Never before have so many Americans been saying and doing so much about the problem of traffic accidents—a problem that costs 38,000 lives and millions of injuries each year. Last week SPORTS ILLUSTRATED discussed the major factors involved in this complex and sanguinary threat to the free use and enjoyment of the now-scrambled open road {opposite)—the highways, the cars, the imperfectly understood vagaries of the drivers themselves, the often conflicting regulations governing driving in the individual states. In this second of two parts, the chief remedies being considered or undertaken at federal, state and private research levels are examined.

So far, the best that law enforcement, improvements in highway and automobile design and stricter licensing standards have been able to do is to keep America approximately even in the fight against traffic fatalities. There is today a hardening conviction in many areas of government, in some influential professional bodies and in citizens' safety groups that more must be done to sharply reduce the toll. This growing sense of determination and purpose has coincided with a postwar awakening to the size and intricacy of the problem.

Perhaps most significantly, the Federal Government has enlarged its concern with traffic safety and is now on the verge of important new efforts. The Public Health Service, given a clear green light by Secretary Abraham Ribicoff of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, has begun a campaign to obtain more knowledge about the driver. The man behind the wheel is usually conceded to be the most perplexing of all the puzzles involved in traffic accidents, and upon him is heaped most of the blame for them. Public Health's highest hopes of better understanding him are based on prospects for a so-called high-fidelity driving simulator, the kind of device made familiar to World War II airmen by the famous Link trainer, a blind-flying teaching aid that has now been refined to the point where it realistically simulates all phases of jet flight from takeoff to roll-out after landing.

The driving simulator will be expensive—about $3 million to build and additional millions to operate—but Public Health's safety experts, and a variety of others in and out of Washington, believe it will be well worth its cost as a research tool. There is no doubt that they will push hard for it when the time comes to talk about money with Congress in the coming weeks.

As Assistant Surgeon General Albert L. Chapman, chief of Public Health's Accident Prevention Division, emphatically points out, the military has already spent hundreds of millions on simulation in submarines, airplanes and space ships to study stresses, refine plans and train men before launching the real thing. The same principles are now to be applied to cars, highways and, above all, drivers.

"We feel," says Dr. Chapman, "that accident prevention is centered around human factors. We don't know enough about the effects of alcohol, drugs, fatigue and disease. We don't know enough about the effects of psychological factors—about anger, worry, distress in the broadest terms. Approximately 250 psychological factors have been partly identified for study. Any or several of these may nullify, in one-tenth of a second, all of a driver's experience and training. I don't know of any other situation where the odds are so thin. We need to find out how to make drivers less susceptible to the psychological trauma that occurs.

"Then there is the question of human engineering. Automobiles are built for standard people. They do not take into account the great variations in height, vision and ability to react. How can that problem be solved? We need to know more.

"Finally, there is the driving task itself. What does it demand of an individual in various situations? We must find out.

"With the simulator we could make studies in all these areas that are impossible now because of the obvious dangers and the unthinkable costs. Imagine putting a number of drivers at various stages of intoxication into actual cars, and you have an idea of the things we cannot do."

A Cornell study, says Dr. Chapman, has shown that a true high-fidelity simulator is feasible. UCLA has already begun to experiment with a less sophisticated model. By projecting filmed road scenes in front of a specially equipped stationary car, UCLA has achieved "a high degree of psychological reality." With the funds it hopes to get, Public Health wants to have UCLA adapt television principles to its simulator and surround the driver with a highway scene through a full 360°. Miniature TV cameras mounted on miniature cars in a miniature landscape would be synchronized with the driving controls of the simulator car.

Hi-fi simulation at this stage is not designed primarily to provide remedies. Research is its main function and, ideally, knowledge gained would be used to remove the inadequacies in present licensing, education and enforcement systems, the best of which are based more on guesswork than scientific evidence. Private physicians might be asked to help utilize medical findings. For just one example, the antihistamines now used in most treatments for the omnipresent common cold can cause drowsiness (Dr. Chapman himself once dozed off at the wheel after antihistamine treatment, but woke up in time). Simulation studies may reveal precisely what kind of warning a physician should give a patient-driver under antihistamines to keep him safe on the road.

Other, cheaper hi-fi simulators are expected to follow the first. None is likely to be used as the aircraft trainers are—actually to teach drivers. After all, pilot training is given to mere hundreds; new drivers are licensed at the rate of three million a year. But it is conceivable that simpler, mass-produced offspring of the hi-fi simulator eventually will be used to teach and train. A kind of simulator is already in use in some high school driver-education classrooms. It has basic driving controls (wheel and pedals) and filmed road scenes, though it is used mainly to teach good highway practice and habits rather than test the student in a simulation of the real thing.

Besides the high-fidelity simulator, Public Health also hopes soon to have a National Accident Prevention Center in which to do its own safety research. So far, research projects have been farmed out, mostly to universities. A bill to establish the center has been introduced in the House by Representative Kenneth A. Roberts of Alabama, the most aggressive crusader for traffic safety on Capitol Hill and, as we shall see, a most controversial man. All Public Health Safety activities (traffic constitutes only a part of them) would be concentrated in the center. Public Health would not discontinue outside grants, but would have for the first time its own research facilities, including, it is hoped, the simulator.

In the meantime, Public Health is pressing a "program for today." Having been largely responsible for getting most federal passenger cars equipped with seat belts, it now campaigns for their wider public use, sponsors regional workshops on deficiencies in the medical aspects of driver licensing, probes the sorry state of on-the-scene accident emergency treatment in the hope of devising—and persuading local authorities to adopt—a model system and, from time to time, brings experts together in national conferences on traffic-safety problems. Public Health has just begun a five-month accident-prevention training course at New York University. Graduates will be assigned to state and local health departments to help them improve their accident-prevention programs. This is a small first step; only 10 students are enrolled in the initial course.

Like HEW, the Department of Commerce has been getting deeper into the safety problem, partly on its own volition and partly through activities placed in its keeping by the White House and Congress. Underlining Commerce's involvement, Secretary Luther Hodges recently made one of the strongest claims on record for Washington's right to act more forcefully.

"It is believed," said the Secretary, "that this useless waste of human and economic resources can be curbed only through an energetic program of national scope at the federal level."

Hodges made that assertion only a month ago, when he announced the creation of a new Office of Highway Safety in the Bureau of Public Roads, and he went on to say that the office "will be responsible for activities designed to gain public support of highway safely standards, coordinate the application of results of all public and private research in the highway safety field, and advise and promote the contribution of state, local, industry, and allied groups."

Precisely how that all-embracing and vaguely stated mission will be carried out in practice is, at this early date, a matter of conjecture. At the very least, the bureau can be expected to step up its safety-research spending (from the current annual level of about $1.75 million) and increase its financial and/or technical aid to such long-established cooperative groups as the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances, which has drafted model codes for the states and cities. The bureau also wants a hi-fi simulator with which to get new data for devising safer roads and better signs.

But Hodges' charge to coordinate the application of "all research findings" seems to imply something larger and more dramatic. There is now, on paper, an Interdepartmental Highway Safety Board, created by Dwight D. Eisenhower in December 1960. Its roster includes the Secretaries of Commerce (board chairman), Defense and HEW, the Postmaster General, the chairman of the Interstate Commerce Commission and the General Services Administrator. The board has never met. It was, and presumably is still, meant to thrash out an integrated safety policy for the executive branch. When and how will the board act? How does the new Office of Highway Safety fit in? How much territory will it carve out? We shall have to wait and see what happens.

Commerce's other safety activities are less mysterious. Through the Bureau of Public Roads, for example, it administers Congress' Interstate Highway Act and sets safety standards for the 41,000-mile Interstate network. Here the bureau works closely with the American Association of State Highway Officials, which considers its road-design manual to be the bible of road builders everywhere, including the Soviet Union, and which takes major credit for the structural designs and the extremely advanced sign system.

The bureau, pointing to such Interstate features as controlled access, the absence of pedestrians, wide center strips on the highways to guard against head-on collisions, huge and uniform signs with guidance in two-foot-high letters and, most important of all, permanence, declares that when the system is completed in 1972, it will save about 5,000 lives annually that would have been lost had Interstate not been launched. That claim is, of course, arguable, but Interstate clearly represents an advance in traffic safety. With more than 11,000 miles now in use, the system is about 30% complete.

Along with overseeing such actualities as Interstate, the bureau is poking into futuristic techniques. None is more intriguing than electronic highway controls. The ultimate goal of present research is a highway on which a heavy flow of traffic could be guided swiftly and safely by electronic devices; driving controls would be assumed by the system, and the driver, in theory, could sit back and play a hand of gin.

Fantastic as that sounds, serious research on electronic highways is progressing toward the point of practical experiment. Basic in the electronics engineer's planning is the perhaps surprising fact that a conventional highway's optimum use, i.e., the point when the most traffic is moving at the highest speed it can, occurs at about 45 mph. This is due to the driver's instinctive placement of his car in the traffic flow. The lower the speed the closer he approaches the car ahead, and vice versa. On hypercrowded roads, speeds higher than 45 mph do not increase but actually decrease optimum use because the spaces between cars become progressively longer. A driver fuming during the rush hour over what seems to be an unrealistically low 40-to 45-mph speed on a well-designed modern expressway can at least console himself with the knowledge that the road is being used for maximum public benefit.

As people and cars multiply, so will the already acute problems of traffic congestion. Thus the electronics engineer's dream of optimum use works out to something like this: a bumper-to-bumper stream of cars moving in complete safety at 80 or 90 mph.

Such roads are not unattainable, but they are very far in the future. A spokesman for the Bureau of Public Roads says there may be none in public use within even a young man's lifetime. Bringing costs within reasonable bounds will be a major job. So will the devising of safeguards against some ghastly breakdown of the system: "fail-safe" devices of some sort will be imperative, and research has not yet progressed to the point of grappling with that problem.

Research has, however, produced dramatic pilot highways. RCA, for instance, has developed three experimental strips over which driverless cars are guided entirely by electronic signals. And right now it is electronically possible, if impractical, for a man sitting at home or office to "drive" his car to the grocery, have a bag of provisions put in it and "drive" it back, accomplishing all this with pushbutton controls while watching the car's progress on a small television screen.

In a quite different safety area the bureau houses something both new and immediate. This is the National Driver Register Service, established by Congress in 1960 and activated last year as a system to stop problem drivers who lose their licenses in one state from getting new, valid ones in another. All states prohibit such end runs around the law, but enforcement has been spotty. The register is a central file of drivers whose licenses have been withdrawn for one of two reasons—drunken driving or involvement in a fatal accident. Today, of the 50 states only Delaware, Florida, Georgia and Massachusetts have failed to participate and give to the service information of such suspensions. More than 114,000 names are in, and the participating states have ordered more than 165,000 searches against questionable applications for driving licenses.

Also promoting safety in the executive branch is the President's Committee on Traffic Safety, established eight years ago by President Eisenhower. Low-budgeted ($190,000 yearly) but long on prestige, with the continued blessing of President Kennedy and with a VIP civilian chairman (Publisher William R. Hearst Jr.), the committee is seeking wider application of existing safety remedies. But it has no power beyond friendly persuasion. Its doctrine is contained in an Action Program, which is a sort of middle-of-the-road manifesto for safer driving and walking. The committee sponsors seminars for safety-minded state legislators "to review their important role in traffic-accident prevention," labors to enlist community leaders in local official safety programs, does missionary work among club men and women to increase their safety consciousness and, among many other things, gets its work mentioned in the press.

While their techniques vary, safety groups in the executive sector have this in common: they are careful not to intrude in areas traditionally reserved to the states and private business. On Capitol Hill, however, Kenneth Allison Roberts feels under no such restraint. He roundly criticizes not only the states ("The states have been dragging their feet") but also the automakers ("I do not believe Detroit is moving fast enough to build a reasonably safe car"). Roberts is a smallish, sandy-haired, self-styled states' rights Democrat and one of the five Representatives injured when Puerto Rican nationalists shot up the House in 1954. While hospitalized with a bullet-smashed knee, he began to ponder a number of health and safety matters, and over the years he has become the House's big itch on safety in general. It was Roberts, for instance, who triggered 1956 legislation requiring easy-to-open interior door latches on refrigerators as a safeguard against the American youngster's proclivity for climbing inside and suffocating.

It was in 1956 that the House formed a Subcommittee on Traffic Safety, and Roberts became its chairman. The group's far-ranging hearings produced a fat, 927-page volume of testimony from government authorities, automakers, private safety and medical groups, students and crash-injury investigators that has become a basic source document in the traffic-safety field.

Since then, Roberts has become chairman of the long-established Health and Safety Subcommittee and has introduced 10 bills wholly or partly concerned with traffic safety (including the Accident Prevention Center bill). One of them has caused a brouhaha. H.R. 1341 would order the Secretary of Commerce to establish safety standards for all passenger cars bought by the Federal Government. Guidelines are not included in the bill; it mentions only "such reasonable safety devices as the Secretary of Commerce shall require."

H.R. 1341 has aroused all the excitement of a bomb with a lit fuse because it is generally assumed that Roberts is looking beyond government cars to the bulk of Detroit's production (as well as the imported cars). Roberts himself confirmed that assumption in a recent speech: "Forced to meet safety standards set by the government," he said, "manufacturers would be encouraged to offer these same features as optional equipment or, perhaps, as standard equipment." He also prophesied "widespread public demands" for equipment given "federal approval."

Roberts is clearly trying to win congressional endorsement of two new and disputed principles: 1) that Washington should assume broad authority in the field of vehicle standard-setting—heretofore left almost entirely to the states; and 2) that, apart from building cars that are safe to drive, the industry should move vigorously in the direction of supplying safety features whose only function is crash protection for the occupants.

The first principle is implicit in the bill, explicit in Roberts' interpretation and has already been applied to the so-called common carriers—trucks and buses which must meet standards set by the Federal Interstate Commerce Commission. The second, while never made truly explicit, may be inferred from remarks by Roberts that can scarcely be interpreted otherwise. In a 1959 report to the House on H.R. 1341, for instance, Roberts quoted nine proposals made by a spokesman for the American Medical Association. They included crash padding of car dashboards and roofs; headrests to prevent neck-snapping, "whiplash" injuries in collisions; roll bars to prevent the roof from collapsing should a car overturn; removal of "dangerous knobs, buttons, sharp edges and other gadgets" from car interiors; and the elimination of sharp, pointed hood and bumper ornaments. "Some or all of the pertinent safety features enumerated above," ran Roberts' comment, "might be adopted by the secretary."

First introduced by Roberts in 1959, the bill was debated and recommitted—which means that it was neither approved nor killed. It was reintroduced last year, and is still awaiting action by the full Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee. Partly because of its larger implications it seems unlikely to be enacted. But it focuses national attention on issues that are of surpassing public interest and will continue to preoccupy Congress and the industry.

It should be understood that few, if any, men concerned with traffic safety believe today's cars to be "unsafe." On the contrary, they are generally agreed to be the safest ever built. The entire controversy revolves around the question of whether Washington or Detroit should decide how they should be made safer still.

As noted in Part I, Detroit points with pride to engineering safety progress made so far, promises more and doubts the wisdom of government intervention. Detroit further asserts that a "foolproof and crashproof" car—one that moves and can be sold—cannot be built. What the industry is saying, at bottom, is that it does not want to be told to subordinate, on short notice, all the other factors that have traditionally gone into the building and selling of motor cars to the one factor of crash protection, especially since crash protection is a relatively new field and there has been nothing that could be termed a crash-protection mandate from government or the public.

Moreover, there seems to be at work here a conviction on the part of the industry that devices intended for safety's sake alone carry the inescapable suggestion that driving can be dangerous. A somewhat similar situation exists among the airlines—by gentleman's agreement, no line advertises itself as "safer" than any other. Nobody, in the air or on the ground, wants a danger label on his products. Thus Detroit continues to make certain protective-only features optional (the most obvious example is seat belts) and continues to advocate "intelligent use." That drivers should be improved is disputed by no one.

H.R. 1341 has been assailed by some Congressmen. In floor debate George Meader of Michigan said he opposed freezing safety progress "by any set of standards set up by some government bureaucrat." John B. Bennett of Michigan declared: "This bill will put the Federal government in the business of designing and engineering automobiles. That is the plain, obvious meaning...."

Roberts sharply defended the bill, saying Commerce should set standards neither "visionary" nor "impractical" and established "only after consultation with the...industry, engineers, medical experts and others who have expert knowledge...."

Roberts probably touched upon the most crucial—certainly the most provocative—line of defense when he put on the record a statement previously made to his subcommittee by T. P. Wright, former Civil Aeronautics administrator and vice-president for research at Cornell University. "I do not believe," went Dr. Wright's testimony, "that we can effect any appreciable and permanent reduction in the magnitude of the crash injury problem, within the foreseeable future, except by increasing the capacity of the vehicle package to protect the occupants...from damage in transit. Only the vehicle, in the complex of human, mechanical, highway, and environmental factors which compose our transportation system, lends itself readily to a high degree of standardization, in areas affecting human safety, within a relatively short period of time."

Thus, the pros and cons on H.R. 1341. Should Congress never act, however, the industry's dilemma will not suddenly disappear. The state legislatures, too, are becoming more safety-conscious. As related in Part I, it was New York State Senator Edward J. Speno who led a legislative-citizen group to Detroit last year and won the automen's agreement to install seat-belt attachment points on the 1962 models (thereby making it easier and less expensive for buyers to have belts fitted).

Speno, chairman of New York's Joint Legislative Committee on Motor Vehicles and Traffic safety, has put on the calendar legislation to require seat belts in the state's taxis and on small school buses, i.e., those carrying 12 pupils or fewer. He is also campaigning for an Automotive-Medical Research Agency, which would look into the causes of accidents (a neglected field so far) and seek methods of reducing injuries. The agency would test automobile safety equipment, such as brakes, lights, door locks, headrests, seat belts and safety harnesses, with a view to improving old devices and developing new ones.

New York, of course, is one of the most aggressive states regarding traffic safety, and Speno is an unusually aggressive individual. The trend elsewhere is toward a quiet, piece-by-piece patching-up of loopholes in licensing, inspection and enforcement systems—work progressing on so many fronts at such unequal rates that no suprastate agency can claim to know exactly what is what at any recent hour.

In the cities the struggle against traffic congestion and accidents grimly continues, but it takes a notably hopeful man to believe that conventional remedies—one-way streets, off-street parking, etc.—will catch up with the increasing automotive squeeze. Probably the most hopeful traffic engineer is Baltimore's Henry Barnes, who has just taken on what he calls the biggest challenge of all—New York City.

In nine years Barnes's traffic program in Baltimore improved the traffic flow "by about 300%." He carved out an arterial street system, put in truck routes, set up a traffic-control center with weather instruments and three radio stations to direct emergency equipment, painted traffic lanes on every street in sight ("there's a lot of traffic control in a can of paint") and worked out, bit by bit, the "most sophisticated and largest electronic traffic-signal system in the world." Based on information fed it by radar instruments overhanging traffic lanes, the system can automatically order any of 200 combinations of traffic movement. For instance, it can determine how much traffic is arriving at an intersection and give the heavier flow a longer signal cycle. A hurry-up, take-charge pepper pot, Barnes says, "I'll use garbage cans filled with concrete with a pole sticking out of them to channelize traffic if I have to wait for channel markers."

A good many urban nonprofessionals are in a hurry, too. Never have so many safety groups been so busy evangelizing citizens to take part in the safety fight. In Ohio the Greater Cleveland Safety Council has begun a community-wide "blueprint for life" campaign, which seeks to enlist a large number of private citizens "and give each of them something specific to do." (Specifics are notoriously absent from such mass-circulated slogans as "Speed Kills" and "Drive Safely—the Life You Save May Be Your Own"; such safety-by-incantation is now widely discredited.)

High school driver education has progressed remarkably in the past decade and promises a strong future growth. In the 1960-61 school year no fewer than 71% of the nation's 20,000 senior high schools offered driver courses, and enrolled 56% of the potential students. Nineteen state governments now aid school driver education financially. The teachers have, at least on paper, won the professional status of their colleagues in the older disciplines. That section of the public which carps at driver education as a frill subject has steadily dwindled, for it has been shown that driver-course graduates have 50% fewer accidents resulting in deaths and injuries than their untrained contemporaries.

Safety-research spending is bound to go up. Some new funds undoubtedly will go to new studies in driver behavior. Students of behavior, on the whole, are today a pretty glum lot; the more they learn about the driver, the more they despair of changing his bad habits (e.g., haste) or countering the negative forces at work on him (e.g., worry). Columbia's James Malfetti, however, believes his group is on the track of an easily administered, unfakable quiz that will at least tend to determine the worst risks among applicants for drivers' licenses. In studies of adolescents, who account for a disproportionate number of accidents and fatalities, Malfetti and his colleagues have discovered that traffic-law violators tend to be children of parents who take little interest in politics and other public affairs, and are emotionally less stable than nonviolators. A broader study delves into traits found throughout the age span. It is from this that the quiz, which is at least three years away, would be drawn. Theoretically, those found to be potential driver risks would then attend some kind of improvement school before being permitted on the road.

Malfetti does not believe that such a quiz should ever be used actually to deny an applicant a license. He shares with most safety people a reluctance to limit his countrymen's prized driving privileges except on dead-certain grounds.

This restraint is less apparent when alcohol comes into the equation. Research men haggle endlessly over the meaning and validity of alcohol studies but, confusing as their debates may be to the layman, the sense of their general conclusions is that intoxicated drivers figure in a larger number of accidents than supposed. One professional, Dr. Horace E. Campbell, chairman of the Automotive Safety Committee of the Colorado State Medical Society, categorically declares that 60% of the nation's fatal accidents involve drinking drivers. Dr. Campbell urges a crackdown, and believes the present legal minimum blood alcohol level of .15%, which must have been reached by the defendant and proved by test before there is prima facie presumption of intoxication, is implausibly high. He says a 200-pound man could attain that level only with a rather determined effort—he would have to take eight "standard" drinks on an empty stomach in somewhat less than an hour. He contends the legal minimum should be brought down to at least .05%.

Dr. Campbell and others emphasize that driving after drinking is not deviant behavior in American society. Indeed, the hostess who does not keep the liquor flowing at a cocktail party is thought to be a pinchpenny, and the abstinent guest who must drive home is easily kidded out of his antisocial lair. The driver who has had an accident after drinking is seldom ostracized.

The safety man's main goal is not to punish drinking drivers after they have had accidents, but to keep them off the road in the first place. Ingenious alternatives to tough enforcement have been advanced, including variations of the old English idea of mailing oneself home—before 1900 an inebriated Londoner could deposit himself at the nearest post office and be carted to his domicile. In Sweden, a nation strongly conscious of its drinking problem, a man unwilling to drive after drinking can ask to be driven home by the police, and no shame is attached.

And so the fight for traffic safety goes—more vigorous than ever before but still beset by massive public apathy, headless, conflict-ridden and uncertain in a broad national sense as to priorities. But at least the safety tide is irreversible. The question now is whether it is flowing fast enough and strong enough.





High-fidelity simulator would surround test drivers with realistic road scenes as scientific way of studying the man behind the wheel.



Intoxicated driver walking the law's white line deeply concerns safety authorities, who seek new ways of keeping him off the roads



New highways like controlled-access Interstate system are opened to traffic as soon as concrete is dry. Though costly, they save lives.



Relatively new law-enforcement tools such as roadside radar put brakes on drivers who flout safety rules by ignoring speed limits.



High school pupils use rudimentary trainers to learn good driving practice and safety habits by emulating driver in classroom movie.



Mechanic's inspection of lights, brakes, wheel alignment and worn parts is an old and vital safety aid, but one too often forgotten.