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Automakers Pledge Safer, Greener Cars


While Ford announced plans to install a skid detection system designed to prevent rollovers, it and the other automakers also revealed new airbags that can come down from the vehicle ceiling in a kind of curtain. The inflatable seatbelt, called The Smart Belt, developed by Ford and BF Goodrich Company, also debuted at the auto show, although neither firm promised to actually install the seatbelt in vehicles.

While some of the new safety features sound good, they have yet to be proved successful, Rae Tyson, safety administration spokesman, tells WebMD. "It is difficult to assess emerging technology," he says. "We are in the process of researching how these systems work."

For their part, officials from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which conducts crash tests and rates vehicle safety, would like to see airbags that are better designed to cushion a driver or passenger's head -- few do now -- and higher headrests that lock firmly in place when adjusted to ear level.

"We like to focus on things we are sure can help," says Adrian Lund, chief operating officer of the Arlington, Va.-based organization. "Whiplash is not bloody and not life threatening. But whiplash injuries cost a lot of money in this country, and they could be prevented if we had head restraints that were high enough and close enough to the head."

Lund, whose organization is funded by auto insurers, says the government needs to be more active in policing the auto industry to ensure that the claims it makes about new features hold up on the road and improve the safety of real drivers. Test results and other data collected by his group can be can be found at

And ultimately, drivers should do more to protect themselves and others, Lund says.

"If they wore their seatbelts, if they didn't speed and run red lights ... it is that simple," he says. " We encourage everybody to buy the safest vehicle they can identify for their needs. But if they just obeyed traffic laws, that would make a huge difference."

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