Road Safety and cool are not words often seen in the same sentence, especially by the youth. The rush for a high-speed adventure when one first gets their license supersedes the importance of safety checks that could potentially save a person's life.
That is why during the First United Nations World Youth Assembly on Road Safety this past April 2007, one of the invited lecturers was Alex Wurz, a Formula 1 driver that spoke on the idea of Road Safety and how the misconception of cool and safe may be reconciled. Starting with a video of him crashing in a Formula 1 car going over 200 mph (that's about 325 km/h for us metric people), he spoke on how road safety made him more confident on reaching the limit of his vehicle. Wurz spoke about the crumple zones in his car, the rigid seatbelts and the helmet and HANS device that protected him during the crash. Most of these can be found in most modern cars today either in full form or at least derivatives of the technology, which was developed from Formula 1 racing. To better substantiate the relation between cool and road safety we should look at safety through the perspective of technology and how the pursuit of safer modes of transportation have actually brought innovation to the everyday vehicles we use as well as how racing today, even in our local context is starting to integrate both concepts, showing that they compliment one another.
Outside Alex Wurz's speech we can see the many entertaining facets of road safety in technology, but because of misconceptions, they are often not directly related to road safety despite their direct connection. In mainstream society we have the crash test dummies. You know, those bobble headed mannequins which are put inside cars to measure g forces put on the body upon impact or crash seen all around either through public service announcements or the occasional Mythbusters episode, these dolls include the most high tech sensors in order of maintaining accuracy in studies. Going to motorsports, we only have to see the obvious in racing's most glorious segment, F1, to realize technology for safety is part and parcel of Formula 1. The different parts of the F1 car that can either make or break a lap time are the same parts that keep a driver from certain death; tires for grip, aerodynamic bodies for high-speed stability, crumpled zones for impact, seatbelts, brakes and traction control systems. From a technological point of view then there is no doubt that both words can go hand in hand.
Which brings us to another key point in reconciling those two concepts; being safe is about being in control of your car. Stability is an important and an essential part of road safety. Parts like spoilers, rims, drivetrain work hard in making sure that the driver is fully aware and in control of their vehicle on the road but motorists must remember that it is up to the driver to properly utilize these. If we were to look locally to the legitimate car-racing scene, where real racecar drivers are bred on closed-off and monitored tracks, we will see the trend of road safety in the form of defensive driving being interlaced with the concepts of racing. Local manufacturers such as Ford and Honda, through their road safety initiatives give opportunities for car enthusiasts to positively release their thrill for speed through venues that are safe, controlled and give access to those interested. Ford through their Ford Road Safety Youth Council's Defensive Driving Challenge, engages the youth in a hands-on program that teaches emergency maneuvering through tight courses that include slalom through the implementation of their partner in road safety, Tuason Racing School. Honda, through their Honda Media Challenge promotes road safety by engaging the media in exercises and competition that instills the importance of balance and control for both aggressive and everyday driving with the hopes of reaching their many readers.
The integration of road safety according to these professional racing instructors isn't just about corporate responsibility, but a way of inculcating the discipline necessary for true racers to thrive. Contrary to what most people think about racing, it's a sport that requires precision which comes from the drivers utmost attention to all details surrounding them, from competition on the grid to warning flags and gauge reports, something that can be translated to defensive driving (which is about being conscious about those driving around you) traffic signs and periodic maintenance of your vehicle. Ask a pro and they will tell you that when getting the fastest lap times, you'll probably not feel like you are going fast at all. Having faster lap times means having MORE control over your vehicle, not less. Keeping the vehicle balanced is key. Only newbies perceive the abrupt starts and jagged cornering as fast. Smooth cornering and avoiding jackrabbit starts is how real pros get to the top. This is because carrying momentum that doesn't unnecessarily reduce speed through a corner isn't normally associated with better times for the driver.
The call for road safety enjoys the support of the best racers in the world of Formula 1. Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, David Coulthard, Heikki Kovalainen and the grand champion of F1 Michael Schumacher. The FIA Formula One World Championship is backing the 'Make Roads Safe' campaign, which is calling on the United Nations General Assembly to approve the first ever UN Global Ministerial Summit on Road Safety and to agree an international strategy for road injury prevention.
With the icons of race, the heroes road racers often aspire to mimic promoting road safety by clearing misconceptions on road safety and cool, there can be no doubt that the two, for the true hard core racers, can go hand in hand.
Now before you get in your car for your next joy ride, ask yourself this, the best racers in the world do not advocate reckless driving and take pain-staking measures to keep themselves safe by staying in control of their car utilizing the best technology the world has to offer, so who are you trying to copy by endangering yourself driving recklessly? Obviously not the pros.