“Safer, Stronger, Better”:
Interpreting Safety through the Airbag

Renée Blackburn * rmblack@mit.edu * 22 November 2013
New York Times, May 24, 1988

Wall Street Journal, June 20, 1988
“Air bags are one of those areas where the
solution may actually be worse than the
problem.”
-Lee Iacocca, Iacocca: An Aut...
Chicago Tribune, 5 March 1974
“Second Collision”: the collision between a vehicle occupant and the
vehicle after the “first impact” between the vehicle ...
National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety
Act of 1966
“…the purpose of this Act is to reduce traffic
accidents and the dea...
Some new
safety features

Life, 20 March 1970
1974 Oldsmobile Air Cushion Restraint System Brochure
“I like the convenience of
not having to have the
shoulder harness on and of
not having the lights and
buzzers that are on...
New York Times, 17 December 1975
Child safety device that works in conjunction
with a seat belt
Irwin Industries, January 1973
“Our experience with the air cushion
indicates that this system, if it can be proven
feasible, has potential advantages ov...
Chicago Tribune, 24 May 1972
The Washington Post, 21 June 1971
“We should know all there is to know about
the automobile, and need only apply this
knowledge to make cars safer, stronger...
New York Times, 22 June 1971
Technology-forcing: “a top-down arrangement
in which regulators dictate to firms farreaching standards that compel develop...
Los Angeles Times, 30 November 1986
“People say I was lucky.
Luck has nothing to do
with it. A Chrysler bag
saved my life.”
The Washington Post, 23 April 1990
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HSS 2013 Presentation: "Safer, Stronger, Better"

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  • p. 56Some of the initial 17 safety standards:Safety beltsPadded visors and dashesRecessed control and instrument knobsSafety door latches and hingesImpact absorbing steering columnsDual braking systemsStandard bumper heightsGlare reduction surfaces28 standards adopted by the 1969 model year.
  • Inflatable occupant restraint systemAir cushion restraint systemAir bagp.2-3
  • But our experience with the air cushion indicates that this system, if it can be proven feasible, has potential advantages over any other we know about.
  • “we should know all there is to know about the automobile, and need only apply this knowledge to make cars safer, stronger, and better than before.” He added, “we are still learning how to make them safer, stronger, and better.” GM Press Release, Jan 26, 1971
  • “People say I was lucky. Luck had nothing to do with it. A Chrysler bag saved my life.”
  • HSS 2013 Presentation: "Safer, Stronger, Better"

    1. 1. “Safer, Stronger, Better”: Interpreting Safety through the Airbag Renée Blackburn * rmblack@mit.edu * 22 November 2013
    2. 2. New York Times, May 24, 1988 Wall Street Journal, June 20, 1988
    3. 3. “Air bags are one of those areas where the solution may actually be worse than the problem.” -Lee Iacocca, Iacocca: An Autobiography (1984), p. 301
    4. 4. Chicago Tribune, 5 March 1974
    5. 5. “Second Collision”: the collision between a vehicle occupant and the vehicle after the “first impact” between the vehicle and another object.
    6. 6. National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 “…the purpose of this Act is to reduce traffic accidents and the deaths and injuries which result from traffic accidents.”
    7. 7. Some new safety features Life, 20 March 1970
    8. 8. 1974 Oldsmobile Air Cushion Restraint System Brochure
    9. 9. “I like the convenience of not having to have the shoulder harness on and of not having the lights and buzzers that are on the standard cars…” “More and more, you begin to appreciate the freedom… It’s like the old days.” “Has left my clothing in a fresh pressed appearance for a significantly longer period.” 1974 Oldsmobile Air Cushion Restraint System Brochure
    10. 10. New York Times, 17 December 1975
    11. 11. Child safety device that works in conjunction with a seat belt Irwin Industries, January 1973
    12. 12. “Our experience with the air cushion indicates that this system, if it can be proven feasible, has potential advantages over any other we know about.” -David D. Campbell, Assistant Chief Engineer, Fisher Body Division 26 January 1971
    13. 13. Chicago Tribune, 24 May 1972 The Washington Post, 21 June 1971
    14. 14. “We should know all there is to know about the automobile, and need only apply this knowledge to make cars safer, stronger, and better than before… We are still learning how to make them safer, stronger, and better.” -Louis C. Lundstrom, Head of Automotive Safety, GM Engineering Staff 26 January 1971
    15. 15. New York Times, 22 June 1971
    16. 16. Technology-forcing: “a top-down arrangement in which regulators dictate to firms farreaching standards that compel development and deployment of new safety technologies.” -John Graham, Auto Safety: Assessing America’s Performance (1989), p. 12-13
    17. 17. Los Angeles Times, 30 November 1986
    18. 18. “People say I was lucky. Luck has nothing to do with it. A Chrysler bag saved my life.” The Washington Post, 23 April 1990
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