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NHTSA targets vulnerable populations for safety rating changes

When constructing buildings, green spaces and vehicles, American engineers should always strive to consider the most vulnerable among us. While floors strewn in inches of tiny pebbles may serve older kids well in a playground setting, babies are prone to eat this material and become sick from the ingestion. While small elevators may serve to open up space in a building, wheelchair-bound individuals must be able to fit within these devices in order to adequately move from one floor to the next as stairs are not an option for them. Vulnerable populations should always be considered when some new space or device is created.

In the case of motor vehicles, vulnerable populations should be uniquely accommodated when it comes to safety and accident prevention. Should children or elderly persons be involved in car or truck accidents, restraint systems, seat construction and air bags must be tailored to their unique characteristics. Failure to take certain vulnerabilities into account when manufacturing vehicles for families and elderly persons can lead to fatal consequences.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is currently reexamining the ways in which it makes safety information available to certain vulnerable populations. Not every car that is safe for an average young adult will be similarly safe if an elderly person or young child is traveling in it. Therefore, in as few as three years, the NHTSA could be releasing vehicle safety ratings tailored specifically for families and elderly drivers.

These safety ratings will uniquely consider vehicle safety features and safety construction that will impact these populations for the better and worse. For example, safe back seats will be granted higher safety ratings for families and easy-to-read dashboards will receive higher marks for elderly motorists.

There are many ways to approach safety. But in all approaches, the most vulnerable populations should be specifically considered. Hopefully the NHTSA will choose to do just that moving forward.

Source: Washington Post, "NHTSA Proposes Older Driver, Family Vehicle Safety Ratings," Suzanne Kane, Apr. 9, 2013

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