Saturday, April 29, 2017

2017 California Mille Rally participant involved in fatal collision.


The article in Autoweek didn't give the cause of this incident. The driver may have sustained a tire or suspension component failure. The driver may have swerved to avoid a deer or other animal. I have driven in the Mendocino area for many years and there are many locations where the trees are right alongside the narrow roadway. There isn't a great margin for error. So there are many possible causes

This is very sad. Running off the road into a large tree is about the worst scenario for an automotive collision. Early cars were not designed to absorb impact nor were occupant restraints engineered into their construction. An aftermarket seat belt seems to have contributed to the passenger's survival, who didn't have to contend with striking the steering wheel and column. Hard to say if it would have helped the driver. These cars are from the era where people thought it was better to be "thrown clear of the vehicle" in a serious collision. Which is obviously not the best approach.

I have commented on this subject before, that when you are driving a vintage car you are operating in the driver's safety standards of that era, which unfortunately were pretty much non existent. We are so used to driving modern cars with deformable energy absorbing structures and full passenger restraints including numerous air bags. In these vehicles it is quite rare when a driver or passenger is killed, and usually only in the most extreme impacts. This same situation occurs in the "Hot Rod" and "Street Rod" communities. Authentic early cars or their modern reproductions are just as lacking in passenger protection.

I rode motorcycles for over thirty five years and I accepted the fact that there was an inherent danger in the process. I did use the appropriate safety equipment. While these old cars are lovely there is a similar acceptance of hazard in their use. I have read articles where enthusiasts that have been participating in non professional racing competitions, like vintage or SCCA type of road racing events have been tragically killed or seriously injured. High speed competition is always risky, However the sanctioning bodies for these events usually require specialized safety equipment, vehicle inspection, driver's training and licensing requirements. Racing is safer than ever, but the risk of injury can never be eliminated. When I participated in auto cross events these usually took place at regular "street driving speeds." These were not considered speed competitions.

These were considered to be the entry level events. There was another step up, where two cars run mirror image courses at the same time. Then there were timed speed events run on an actual race course, which of course results in higher speeds. Track days are popular with many enthusiasts and of course the opportunity to damage your car or your body are always present. At the highest level there is of course, actual amateur road racing. No one is ever required to compete in any of these venues. If you enjoy and are comfortable at any level you can always stay at that level.

We all drive on public highways to fulfill our transportation needs. We share the roads with many different drivers of varying skill levels and interest. Many are paying more attention to their texts and tweets than traffic conditions around them. Some have emotional and aggression issues that can erupt as road rage incidents. How about those drivers that engage in a makeshift speed competition to "prove something " to another driver. I know I've had cars blow past me at close to a hundred miles an hour in freeway traffic! So driving back and forth to work has it's own level of danger.

I extend my sympathies to the families for their loss. I also hope that this does not bring a storm of criticism upon the promoters of these types of events. These rallies are clearly described as touring events. There is no expectation, and there should not be excuses for treating this as a high speed competition. However it has been reported that several European Rallies have been met with tragedy when some participants have decided that they are going to try to fill the shoes of legendary race and rally drivers. Some have met with tragic consequences.

I'm not trying to be negative about the hobby of driving older cars for fun. I certainly enjoy driving them. We have to be realistic about their abilities in modern traffic conditions. I put quite a few miles on my drum brake equipped '70 Mustang coupe. This was not the best stopping car in the world, and I was constantly aware of this. There were many times when I felt very stressed because I had to be constantly hyper alert to changing traffic conditions. In my situation I had the option of upgrading the braking system. I didn't do that, I just ended up selling the car. If the emphasis is on maintaining the vehicle's originality sometimes you don't have that choice.

photo source: Jay Leno's garage

Let's be careful out there. This old car hobby is about having fun. 

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