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Stop making cars to hit deadly speeds

By FREDERICK-DOUGLASS KNOWLES II

Publication: The Day

Published June 29. 2014 4:00AM

The car split into two, ejecting the driver and front seat passenger. The third occupant remained belted in the backseat. All three were pronounced dead at the scene. I have not seen my cousin Jesse Robinson (the driver) since his childhood and cannot fathom how his life ended so tragically in the June 19 crash on a stretch of Route 82 in Bozrah. What circumstances forced a 3.0 liter engine to end up behind the car and project two young men 30 feet? Cynics will argue negligence, but it's more than negligence - it's engineering - cars designed for excessive speed.

Why do NASCAR drivers, who race 200 mph, receive extensive, professional training, but the licensed consumer can operate a 160-mph vehicle without similar asdvanced instruction? It's frightening to think that a critical characteristic that separates my vehicle from a NASCAR is 40 mph. Granted, there is the choice to drive too fast. Yet, like a child who cannot resist touching a burning flame despite a warning of danger, some drivers cannot resist the temptation these cars provide to push past limits of the law and of safety.

Motor companies design vehicles to exceed 150 mph then target them to consumers who are obligated by law to drive at no more than half that rate. Why are there no laws requiring motor companies to produce products that abide by speed limits? Why do they design passenger vehicles to go so fast?

Because they sell, of course; profit placed before safety.

Why not demand the design of consumer cars that travel at 75-80 mph maximum? This may not prevent all speeding crash deaths, but it could help reduce fatality rates. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, approximately 10,000 people died in car crashes in 2012 due to speeding. The study went on to state that, "In 2012, speeding was a factor in 30 percent of motor vehicle crash deaths. Speeding has been a factor in about one-third of crash deaths since 2003."

In a society that glamorizes the Fast & Furious lifestyle, are we not in need of a regulation? Are not one-third of motor vehicle crash deaths in the last 10 years worth an inquiry into vehicle speed capability? If given the chance what would Paul Walker - the Fast & Furious star killed in a high-speed auto crash - do?

Even though the full details of the June 19 accident have not been disclosed, it is evident that speed was a fatal factor. In a crash in which speeding above the limit is the cause, the driver bears responsibility. In this case that choice led to three deaths - of Jesse, Terrance Garland and Kenneth Barki, a recent college graduate soon to be a school teacher.

However, Jesse is not the only negligible party. Shouldn't Mitsubishi be held accountable for engineering the 3000 GT to violate speeding laws?

There are many precedents for forcing car companies to engineer safety into vehicle design. In the history of the motor vehicle, there have been added requirements for lights to drive at night, for secure gas drums to avoid explosions, for seat belts and air bags to save lives in accidents.

Maybe it is time for the next paradigm shift in car safety. Maybe it's time to regulate cars to max out at 75-80 mph.

Maybe it's time to stop glamorizing the Fast & Furious lifestyle.

Frederick-Douglass Knowles II is an assistant professor of English at Three Rivers Community College and a Norwich resident.

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