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A proposal for the auto industry

Miscellaneous 7 194

OK, I know I said I would be back to normal design related posts after the weekend, but something changed my mind. This morning, I read in the paper about two more cyclists who were killed in a nearby South Carolina town. On top of that, I read the comment from Fritz about my last post and the most recent post on Foldable Walter’s site. It is an understatement to say that these deaths are tragic. Rather than talk about design, I want to ask a question that has been on my mind for some time.

In this country, we force tobacco companies to pay for ads that alert the public to the dangers of their product. Companies that produce alcoholic beverages also have to pay for advertisements that tell people how to use their products responsibly. My question is, why don’t automobile manufacturers have to do the same thing? Car accidents kill 30 – 40 thousand people in the United States every year. Those are staggering numbers, yet car companies continue to market their “lifestyle-oriented” products as fun, sexy, and sporty. Don’t get me wrong, I am not proposing a ban on cars, in fact I own one for long trips. I am proposing that companies who manufacturer and sell cars step up and take part in educating users as to the safest way to use them. The marketing people in the automotive industry are trying to sell an image rather than a product. Fine, I understand that. Still, I think it is their responsibility to remind people to pay full attention to the road any time they get behind the wheel. Ads that show a car skidding in the desert, a sports car speeding on a winding road, or a driver singing and dancing behind the wheel are extremely irresponsible no matter what the fine legal type says. When carmakers mention safety in their ads, it is almost always only about the people in the car. I would love see ads from car companies reminding people that the product is potentially dangerous and that complete attention is required to operate it. Failure to do so is jeopardizing not only the driver’s life, but also the lives of others. Yes, mentioning the potential danger of a product kind of kills the fun image, but it could save lives. Most people in this country take the privilege of driving for granted and they don’ t think twice about multitasking while cruising down the road. People need to be reminded that eating a burger, playing with the stereo, or checking a day planner are activities that can wait until they are parked. Is the automotive industry completely responsible for the problem of driver inattention? No. Could they be part of the solution? I think so.


  1. Ed W October 31, 2005 at 10:28 pm -  Reply

    Marvelous post, James! Could I forward it to some advocacy e-lists?

  2. bikefridaywalter October 31, 2005 at 11:11 pm -  Reply

    james, thanks for noticing my little pigeonholed blog. this has been a pretty sad year for us out in oregon. we’ve had like 13 deaths in portland. a few of our own customers have died, one of them being particularly special to us. from the carfree cities/carfree groups and indymedia i’ve seen tensions heating up between cyclists and motorists in portland. yep, it’s scary.

    and yet you bring up a great point. the bicycle industry is riddled with warnings about how things are unsafe. tags hanging off of quick releases. 50 page manuals with 10 pages of instructions and 40 pages of warnings. constant warnings about danger. even our own manuals feature a brief bit on safety.

    in the bike industry, this is about BEING safe. in the automobile industry, it’s about having safety features meant to lull the user into thinking they don’t have to BE safe. this is the exact problem i have with bike lanes (come on, ed, you must agree with me on this one!).

    anyways, i digress. you hit the nail on the head, spot on, james. and ed’s got the right idea.. this needs to spread. it’s surprising no one hasn’t thought of it before.

  3. Fritz November 1, 2005 at 12:13 am -  Reply

    Great essay, James.

    In my review of cycling related news today I saw about a half dozen stories on cyclist deaths and other accidents with cars in Australia.

    So what do Australian officials decide to do? Yep, crackdown on those dangerous cyclists. It’s a ridiculous solution to the problem.

  4. James November 1, 2005 at 8:37 am -  Reply

    Thanks so much for your feedback guys. Ed, please feel free to forward the post to any list that you wish. I’d love to have more people in on the discussion.

  5. Tim Jackson- Masi Guy November 1, 2005 at 11:16 am -  Reply


    Well put. As a bicycle manufacturer, I am required to make sure there are billions of warnings everywhere on the product and in the literature. I agree that car companies could do the same… and should.

    I won’t go through the long list of injuries I have sustained due to automobiles. I’m lucky to be alive and to have the priviliege to keep riding my bike.

    I’ll be linking your post today and spreading the word.

    Tim Jackson
    Brand Manager
    Masi Bicycles

  6. Fritz November 1, 2005 at 1:29 pm -  Reply

    Simon on the CarFree list posted a note about this article in the Guardian that compares the harm from passive smoking with the harm done by “passive driving.”

  7. Charles Strassner May 5, 2007 at 6:36 pm -  Reply

    Bicyclists and motorcyclists are tired of being maimed or killed because automobile motorists have the right to be lousy drivers. I love motorcycling, have been struck once deliberately by a drinking driver. I survived by the grace of God and proper safety apparell. I used to enjoy bicycle touring, now only do laps in my gated community to keep fit. No traffic to contend with, but it isn’t as fun as actually going somewhere. Now I know what every one has in their garage, not much else to see. LOL. When I do go motorcycling, it’s like mission impossible to avoid aggressive drivers. Good luck you cyclists, our hobby has become dangerous only because of the carlessness of many motorists and a legal system that won’t come down hard on lousy drivers as harshly as needed. Driving safely only takes consideration for those we are sharing the road with. If I can log over 1,000,000 miles in commercial trucks,accident free, anybody in a four wheeler should be able to show courtesy to others on the road as well. It only takes consideration and manners.
    And yes, most automobile comercials encourage unsafe driving habits.

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