When it comes to developing vehicles that are safe to drive and protect drivers from injuries or death during a crash or collision, there are a great many elements to consider. Devices to restrain drivers and passengers are important, as striking the interior, or worse, being ejected from the vehicle can lead to severe injuries and in the case of ejections, death.
Seat belts, air bags and tempered glass are all used to achieve this end. Tires that grip the road and brakes that can quickly stop are extremely valuable. Crumple and crush zones in body architecture can absorb much energy in a crash and prevent it from being transferred to a motorist’s body.
Effective headlights, turn signals and brake lights are essential, to allow drivers to see the road and potential dangers and to alert other drivers of braking and turning.
But have you ever thought about controls? The arrangement of brake and accelerator or clutch pedal? Where the dash turn signals are mounts and how they function? The order of gears on an automatic transmission?
At one time, much of this was standardized, either by regulation or by industry practice, where all cars were virtually identical operationally. Modern electronics have changed much of this. Ever struggled to figure out how to turn on the wipers or the air conditioner in a rental vehicle that is different from your personal vehicle?
One commentator suggests that the deadly crash involving the SUV at a rail crossing last month may have been the result of a the driver becoming confused by the shift controls of the Mercedes SUV she was driving. For decades, all cars used mechanical PRNDL automatic shift levers, but with electronics, that is no longer necessary.
Sitting in your driveway, you may dismiss such a suggestion, thinking how could anyone be confused by something so simple.
Imagine your car stopped on railroad tracks and the crossing gates have closed. You have only had your vehicle for a few months, and the controls are different from any vehicle you have driven previously.
Instead of your neighbor’s child playing in the next driveway over, you instead see out your side window the headlight on the train as it grows brighter and closer and your brain struggles to shift the car into reverse.
What if you make the wrong decision?
We may never know why this crash occurred, but the design of controls in a vehicle are not without consequences.
Jalopnik.com, “Was Mercedes’ Gearshift Design To Blame In Fatal Train-Car Accident?” Jason Torchinsky, March 5, 2015