Let’s start with a question – do you find your car headrests to be comfortable?
Contrary to popular belief, headrests were never designed for resting our heads while driving. The term “headrest” is actually short for “head restraint”, which is designed to protect the driver from whiplash, a damaging consequence of rear collisions that cause injury to the neck and spine during impact.
The first recorded automobile fatality took place in 1869. Unfortunately, advances in vehicle safety took almost half a century to come to fruition through the introduction of hydraulic brake systems in 1922.
Vehicle testing was introduced by General Motors in 1934, leading to more advances in vehicle safety, including the World Forum for the Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations in 1958.
It was only until the 1960s where seatbelts became mandatory, and head restraints for front seats became an optional accessory. It took more than a century after the first recorded vehicle fatality before rear seat belts became mandatory in vehicles.
We are fortunate that stricter regulations exist today. However, one must ponder why it had taken so long for safety features to be made standard equipment – something that would have saved countless lives.
It would, however, be idealistic to simply implement regulations. As an implementer of government policies, as well as a former member of the automotive industry, I’d like to offer my perspective on this issue.
as duty obliges me to ensure decisions balance the needs of all stakeholders, which unfortunately, are often common yet has their own nuanced conflicts.
One of the major issues behind vehicle safety regulation is the generation of enough public awareness regarding a safety concern.
For example, regulations on mandatory child seats may seem common sense to many, but at the ground level, it poses a cost factor that is challenging for the government to force on the public.
A lack of consumer awareness often drives down demand, causing market prices for certified child seats to rise, and are only purchased by the select few who have a good understanding of passive vehicle safety. It is for this reason child seat prices are cheaper in countries where public awareness is present.
It is also unfortunate that public clamour for enforcement usually takes place during widespread coverage of a recent incident, but is often short lived. This provides little room for public awareness campaigns to receive the limelight it deserves.
As mentioned above, advances in vehicle safety are often initiatives of regulators and car makers themselves.
Due to high competition within the market, car makers such as Volvo have branded their company philosophy through pioneering safety – the most popular example being the invention of the three point seat belt seen in all cars today.
However, the faster turnaround of new vehicle safety features is often marred by lukewarm consumer response, causing delays in reaching the final production line.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. The industry plauers and government need the help of each and every one of us to make vehicle safety a priority.
Time is also of the essence. Vehicle technology is growing in complexity, especially in advanced countries with significantly higher awareness levels.
Awareness of environmental issues, such as battery disposal, will come into play, adding the burden of stricter environment policies to the already problematic safety awareness within our borders.
I therefore urge and implore all of us to play our part. For those who are aware, spread the information – it has never been easier to share good safety awareness.
To my fellow Malaysians, get to know about vehicle safety and how it affects us, our families and those around us.
We all truly have to play our role.
The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive Institute.