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THE SAFETY ENIGMA
Kenneth Rudeen
January 29, 1962
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.
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January 29, 1962

The Safety Enigma

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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.

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