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Article and photos by Simon Hill

Photo Gallery:
I Can’t See Clearly Now

I never really got to know my grandfather as well as I’d have liked, because he lived in England while I grew up in Canada and only saw him occasionally. But lately, thanks to modern automobile design, I feel like I’m getting a chance to experience some of the things he experienced.

You see, during his lifetime one of the things my grandfather did was drive armoured personnel carriers. You know the kind: built to withstand whatever gets thrown at it, and mere gun slits for front windows.

Now, thanks to increased NHTSA roof crush standards that went into effect in 2009, and the proliferation of airbags on A-pillars, I get to drive cars that are nearing the strength of the old armoured personnel carriers my grandfather drove, and certainly approximating the meagre outward visibility.

The critical difference of course is that while my grandfather was driving around in bombed-out muddy bogs and liable to accidentally clip inanimate things like ruined stone walls, small defoliated trees and old smashed-up fences that he simply couldn’t see, I drive around in the city and run the risk of clipping little old ladies, young children and small dogs on long leashes.

The Monday Rant: I Cant See Clearly Now the monday rant opinion health and safety
I Can’t See Clearly Now. Click image to enlarge

These days, I tend to drive like a gecko lizard, bobbing my head up and down and all around trying to ensure I haven’t missed anything (hey, I drive a lot of different cars, so I’m never 100 percent certain where the blind spots are anymore).

But it wasn’t always this way – my old early-’70s BMW 2002 had pencil-thin A-pillars that couldn’t hide an anorexic supermodel. And it didn’t necessarily make the car weak: an acquaintance did a double barrel roll across a rural gravel road in his 2002 after swerving to avoid a dog, dropping into the ditch at 100 km/h and then tripping the car up exiting the ditch sideways at the same speed. Everyone survived, even the dog. Well, actually, the car didn’t survive, but while it’s roof had taken on an interesting peaked shape it hadn’t crushed into the passenger compartment. I suppose it helped that the 2002 only weighed about 1,010 kg.

Nowadays you can hide an astounding array of people, bicycles and even small cars behind a typical A-pillar, not to mention some bulked up rearview and wing mirrors. Check out the photo of my kids crossing an intersection while I wait to turn left (which will take my car through the crosswalk they’re on, although as a driver my attention is likely to be focused on oncoming traffic). This is in a new subcompact car, with A-pillar mounted airbags and a nice strong roof designed to support not just 1.5 times the vehicle’s weight like in the past, but a full three times the vehicle’s weight (did I mention that, on average, cars are getting heavier these days?). There’s no need to name the make or model here, as there are many offenders.

The Monday Rant: I Cant See Clearly Now the monday rant opinion health and safety The Monday Rant: I Cant See Clearly Now the monday rant opinion health and safety
I Can’t See Clearly Now. Click image to enlarge

Can you even spot the kids? They aren’t exactly trying to hide — indeed they are standing side by side in the middle of the crosswalk with their arms outstretched. And wearing some of the most shockingly garish clothes devised by man. (One is in a red-and-white checked jacket, the other in a putrid kelly-green sweater. Honestly.)

The region where I live has been plagued by a huge spike in pedestrian accidents this winter. The police have said they are “confounded” by the problem. The newspapers have variously blamed the problem on pedestrians wearing dark clothing or HID headlights dazzling drivers and rendering them temporarily blinded. Close, but no cigar. The drivers are blinded all right, but it’s not temporary, it’s a permanent state of affairs. At least until the NHSTA and IIHS wake up to the fact that safety is more than just brute strength and that vehicle occupants aren’t the only people we need to protect.

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