The 1981 Ford Escort is not a car that brings to mind visions of the most magnificent automobile ever built. The ’81 Escort was a small car with no luxury features, but in one very practical way the ’81 Escort holds the distinction of being one of best to safeguard against personal injuries and death.
Of all the car bumpers ever tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the ‘81 Escort was the most effective in preventing damage to the rest of the car and preventing intrusions into the passenger compartment in crashes.
One major reason why bumpers fail in protecting against personal injuries is that they come at many different heights.
Federal law mandates that car bumpers must be between 16 and 20 inches off the ground, but all the other vehicles on the road, including semi-tractors, trailers, buses, trucks, vans, and SUVs, have no obligation to have bumper heights to protect passenger cars in collisions. The Europeans have been doing it for years to their semi-tractors and trailers, even those that cross the Alps in winter. But in the U.S. bumpers can come at any height, and owners can raise them farther off the ground. It’s even legal to sell pickups and SUVs, such as the Toyota RAV4, with no bumper at all.
One of the reasons for the 16-to-20 inch range is that bumpers at those heights will reduce injuries to pedestrians in collisions between people and cars.
That’s an important safety consideration, but because the bumper height regulation applies only to cars, a collision between a car and a truck, bus, SUV or a pickup truck with mismatched bumpers is likely to result in extensive damage to both vehicles, even when the collision takes place at 3 MPH, which isn’t even a brisk walking pace and that means personal injuries will follow.
And as the speeds go up, the damages increase significantly. In 2004, a series of tests conducted by the IIHS found that the difference in height between car bumpers and the bumpers of everything else on the road caused extensive damage to both vehicles involved in a crash.
Two of the 10 MPH test collisions resulted in more than $6000 in total damages, and Adrian Lund, the IIHS‘s Chief Operating Officer, concluded that “Motorists who bump into mismatched vehicles, even at very low speeds, will have no choice but to open their wallets.” Actually, it is worse than that because major property damage often means the occupants suffered major injuries.
In 1999, Andy Rooney did a 60 Minutes segment on the troubles with bumpers. A decade ago he said, “What we need is a law forcing car manufacturers to put every bumper on every vehicle at one standard height off the road.” He made the critical point that for bumpers to work properly, the cars involved in a collision would have to be exact duplicates of each other. I strongly agree.
A vehicle that sits higher will often drive right over a lower one, crushing it. If the vehicles’ bumpers would engage each other instead, the people in the lower vehicle would be safer.
The lack of a standardized height for bumpers causes personal injuries, wrongful deaths, and exorbitant repair bills, and now is the ideal time for a law that would mandate standardized bumper heights for all vehicles on the road.
GM and Chrysler are now Government Motors. Passenger safety and fuel economy should be the goals of the re-orientation of these companies.
To compete in the coming years, all auto companies will be retooling their plants to build cars, trucks, SUVs, and vans that are safer and more fuel efficient.
Bumpers should be a source of protection for occupants, not a cause of greater injuries. Join the fight. Send this short letter to your representative in Congress:
Dear Congressional Representative:
Because of the lack of a uniform standard height for bumpers on cars, pickup trucks, vans, SUVs, and trucks, American drivers suffer preventable injuries and exorbitant repair costs. Please stand up for consumers by introducing legislation that will require all bumpers on all vehicles to be at a standard height. This simple change will make our roads safer and our repairs less costly. It the Europeans can do it on all vehicles, so can we.
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