Government regulations presumably promote the common good. In general, I agree. However, I don't always agree that the approach used is the most sensible.

One example might be government's solution to reducing crime. Instead of building more prisons, a better solution would be to prevent crime in the first place. It has to be cheaper than building more prisons and keeping people in jail.

In short, I still believe that an ounce of prevention is better and cheaper than a pound of cure.

Apply this concept to auto safety and safety regulations.

Air bags have been used for years. They have not only proven reliable, but effective in saving lives. I know from my own experience. I was in a serious accident, which activated my air bag, and I walked away without a scratch.

A low percentage of deaths have been reported from activated air bags hitting children and small adults with excessive force. It's not clear whether the victims were properly secured in seat belts or child safety seats. Air bags are always more effectivewhen you're belted.

There is no conclusive evidence that when used properly, there's a problem with air bags. Yet, the government has decreed that by 2000 air bag designs must be safe for all, from a small child to an adult sumo wrestler.

These designs are complicated and expensive. The industry is expected to spend whatever it takes to develop an air bag that meets this regulation. Surely it will result in more lawsuits and increased costs.

I'm almost certain that engineers will come up with a design that the government eventually will approve. Then, I have no doubt, after a few years they'll find something that wasn't covered, and the whole process will start over.

It may be great to be protected when you have an accident, but wouldn't it be better not to have an accident in the first place? Look at the benefits: fewer fatalities, lower car repairs, health care costs would be less, and insurance rates would fall.

What's more, technology exists to largely prevent accidents. Some examples:

n Front, side and rear indicators that would trigger a buzzer if another car comes too close. In addition, if the car behind comes too close it would set off a flasher warning its driver. Also, it would be easy to incorporate a feature that if you are getting too close to the car in front it would gradually and automatically apply your brakes (see TNT, p.109).

n Unfortunately headlight design seems to be more of a styling concern than improving safety. However, Chrysler's headlights have evolved from a flashlight on its previous cars to a searchlight on its new models.

n How about driving with your high beams on without blinding oncoming drivers? It should be possible to create a windshield capable of deflecting oncoming headlight beams at a safe angle and still not interfere with the driver's view of the road. Lights also could be installed at bumper height so you could easily see the curb and objects low to the ground.

n The rearview mirror should be designed so it can give an unobstructed view of everything that's behind the car. But the answer is not a periscope. If I'd wanted a periscope I'd buy a submarine. Some people say that curbing the rights of the elderly can reduce accidents. If cars were made safer, it would benefit everyone - including the elderly.

Smooth traffic flow also reduces accidents. Traffic lights on most main roads are not synchronized. As a consequence, drivers are continually stopping and going in heavy traffic. When the car in front of them unexpectedly stops and then goes and then suddenly stops again it's a made-to-order condition to cause accidents. I see it all the time when I'm driving to work. So why not synchronize the lights? - Stephan Sharf is a former Chrysler Corp. executive vice president for manufacturing.