Softer Cars To Save Pedestrians

"P0LAR II", A SPECIALLLY DESIGNED CRASH TEST DUMMY
CBS
Hit by a small car going 45 miles per hour, 17-year-old Eric Dent is lucky to be alive.

As CBS News Correspondent Thalia Assuras reports, he had severe bruised lungs.

"The car always wins when a pedestrian is struck," says Dr. Samir Fackhry, a trauma surgeon.

Dent's doctor sees this kind of human damage all the time.

"That's actually the most common thing we see - pedestrians who are struck at more than 10 or 20 miles-per-hour, and every one of those people is in dire danger," says Fackhry.

With the Polar II, a specially designed crash test dummy, Honda measures a vehicle's impact on different parts of the body.

"Sixty-seven percent of the injuries are head injuries," says Charlie Baker, Chief Engineer at Honda. "You can see it's a really violent event."

Honda is trying to engineer their cars to make it possible for a person to survive a direct hit. This effort is driven in part by regulations in Asia and Europe where people are struck by cars at a higher rate.

Engineers here say even seemingly minor design changes can make a difference.

"You want as soft a surface as possible when you're hitting your head into anything," says Baker.

For example, allowing more empty space under the hood could reduce the 4,600 deaths and more than 170,000 injuries that occur annually.

Another example of a minor change that could make a difference is breakaway wipers. In a test, a dummy's head is propelled at 25 miles per hour onto a wiper post designed to reduce impact.

"When a pedestrian's head comes down, it will actually allow these to break in this fashion and absorb the energy, absorb the blow," says Baker.

Honda, which rarely lets cameras into its research facility, has developed its low-tech safety features at a cost, it says, of about $10 per vehicle. High-tech systems would run in the thousands.

One idea is a hood that pops up to soften impact. A radar system that would detect a pedestrian and deploy an external airbag to cushion impact.

Dent could only have wished he had more protection.

"You can't put a price on life," says Dent's father.

Auto companies say buyers won't pay a lot to protect pedestrians and with no government pressure, there is no incentive for U.S. automakers to make their cars softer to the touch.