Special Coverage


DETROIT – Even with advanced technologies found in vehicles today, most safety systems are geared toward the 25-year-old average adult male, says General Motors Corp.’s executive safety director.

If you are younger or older than that, or female, “try and avoid collisions,” warns Robert Lange at the Convergence Transportation Electronics Conference here. “The restraint system is not designed for you.”

There are some exceptions, Lange says, as auto makers and suppliers have been working to develop safety systems that can accommodate a variety of body types, ages and genders. But there is work yet to be done.

“Over the 20-25-year history of airbag systems and the 50-year history of seatbelts, we have sized them for an average male,” Lange says. “We tend to dose every occupant the same way in every single crash. We need to find a mechanism by which we can amplify those dosing elements in the restraint system to better fit our occupants.”

It is imperative auto makers and suppliers continue to advance safety technologies to help mitigate the number of fatalities and injuries that result from auto collisions, Lange says, noting the World Health Organization in 2000 estimated 1.3 million people lost their lives in motor-vehicle collisions.

That number could nearly double to 2.4 million by 2030, making vehicle collisions the No.5 cause of death in the world, the WHO says.

“We manufacture the most complex product that is entered into the global stream of commerce, and it’s a product that can result in a fatality during normal use,” Lange says. “That’s not true in the case of sunglasses and hand lotion.”

GM’s ultimate goal is to develop safety systems that will eliminate fatalities, and the auto maker is working with its suppliers to develop devices to help it achieve that objective.

While crash-avoidance technologies receive a lot of attention, there are a series of things that can be done post-collision to minimize fatalities, Lange says.

“Perhaps (in the future), we could communicate with occupants in the vehicle when the trip is initiated, and if a crash occurs, we could download data for emergency responders,” he says.

However, Lange acknowledges it might be hard to convince consumers such advanced safety technologies are worth the extra cost.

“They’ll probably not pay for it,” he says. “We have to find a way to do this with improvements that are affordable and fit into the customary economic model.”

Meanwhile, Lange’s advice to auto makers is to pay particular attention to emerging markets, which represent the greatest opportunities and also some of the highest vehicle-fatality rates in the world.

“Our role is obvious,” he says. “We supply the device(s) and we have the responsibility to make (them) appropriately safe and affordable to the markets in which they are introduced.”