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  1. Ivan Barry Pless
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ivan Barry Pless, 434 Lansdowne, Westmount, Quebec, Canada H3Y2V2; barry.pless{at}mcgill.ca

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New car technology=fewer injuries?

Some recent stories about technological developments make us wonder if this will translate into greater car safety. The most exciting is self-driving cars. In the US, California recently joined Nevada and Florida to legalise these ‘autonomous vehicles’ and GM predicts that by 2015 a fully self driving car will have been perfected. Although it remains to be seen whether this will affect safety, Google's Driverless Car project has driven ‘accident-free’ for over 300 000 miles (480 000 km). Each car is equipped with Geographic Positioning System (GPS), radar, video cameras, laser radar and lots of computing power. Another promising development is an in-car alcohol detection system that would prevent ignition but remains to be perfected. Finally, there is self-braking. These electronic systems use radar to keep cars from crashing either by audible warnings or braking assistance. Unlike the others above there is some evidence of how effective braking systems can be. Two Virginia Tech researchers concluded that they would slow cars down enough to cut the number of serious injuries in half and entirely prevent nearly 8% of rear-end collisions.

Bike helmets—again, and again

Scarcely a week goes by without a new posting for or against bike helmets. The main issue is whether legislation is needed; a newer, indirectly related issue involves increasingly popular loaner programmes. I am biased in favour of requiring helmet use and support for this position came from a recent paper from New South Wales (Australia). It examined head injury rates before and after legislation 10 years ago and showed a decline in injuries despite a steady growth in ridership. However, some cyclists in Victoria where helmets are compulsory are trying to have their law repealed (Mexico has already done so). The argument is that helmets give a false sense of security and that the law discourages riders. (But, see the NSW finding above!) …

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