Safety in small cars

The increased fuel efficienty of small cars does not have to be bought with decreased safety for the people in them. But to prove this point will require drivers as well as government and industry to manifest the qualities of thought and action that can forestall the rise in traffic fatalities now projected by public and private safety officials.

The momentum toward improved auto safety standards must not be lost. At present Congress is considering weakening some already on the books. Accroding to government tests, most cars do not provide what is regarded as sufficient protection for passengers in crashes at 35 miles per hour, just give miles above the 30-mile-an-hour speed on which minimum federal standards are based. Yet the fact that a few models did do especially well -- all of these being American, by the way -- indicates that technical progress can be made.

Yet technical progress can go only so far, whether in the design of vehicles or of the roads and traffic systems that can also contribute much to safety. It is the qualities of the person behind the wheel which can make a crucial difference in the outcome of the risk projections. Alertness, judgment, courtesy, responsibility -- these are part of the mix not only to forestall fatalities but to keep a country moving as smoothy and efficiently as possible.

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