Feet on the Dashboard

The warmer weather this past weekend brought out a summer car ritual, one that admittedly is on my large list of car-culture pet peeves — things like stuffed animals in the rear-window ledge, or vocoder-heavy R&B (can we call for a moratorium on this device, please?) played at top decibel on my street.

I’m talking about feet on the dashboard. OK, yeah, call me uptight, neurotic, etc., but I tend to be rather repulsed by the site of bare feet in a public environment that isn’t the beach. Maybe it was those hacky-sack players on the quad in college. In business class to New Delhi I had to gently rebuke the passenger behind me, a kindly businessman who nevertheless saw fit to rest his unadorned foot on my armrest, just behind my elbow. The profusion of “mandals” leaves me cold.

But with alarming frequency one will spy, in the neighboring lane, a pair of bare feet propped up on the dashboard, or even dangling out the window (of the passenger side, of course; when you see this on the driver’s side, it brings up a whole other level of concerns). The phenomenon seems to tilt, demographically, towards a male driver and a female passenger. Again, call me uptight, but if there’s one thing I don’t want on my car’s interior surfaces it’s the oils, exfoliated skin, fungal detritus, etc., of someone’s feet. But the real issue, of course, is airbag deployment. When activated, airbags burst forth at around 200 MPH (and remember, you’ll be going forward), with tremendous loads that get higher the closer one is to the airbag. According to one study:

For example, at a distance of four inches from the airbag face to the chest plate, the deploying airbag exerted a maximum load of 912 pounds when released. In the slow motion video clip captured by Dr. Kowalski’s high speed camera, one can clearly see the chest plate on the fixture bow upward as the airbag pushes against it.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to picture what would happen to one’s legs if driven forward at such speeds and loads by an airbag; I don’t have statistics, but there must be numbers on injuries caused by airbags due to non-standard seating arrangements, or some such.

I looked in my copy of Accidental Injury: Biomechanics and Prevention, by Alan M. Hanum and John W. Melvin, but found nothing on the subject of airbags and feet. I did find, however, this rather sobering passage: “A laboratory study by Lau et al (1993) examined the potential for injury from out-of-position anesthetized swine with deploying driver airbags… splenic lacerations were the most frequent abdominal injury, often extending through the thickness of the spleen.”

It’s not a direct comparison, but extrapolating from this it seems like nothing good is going to happen if a crash were to occur and your feet were propped up at eye level — whether you were wearing shoes or not.

This entry was posted on Monday, April 20th, 2009 at 11:40 am and is filed under Cars, Drivers. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.

May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
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June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
Big Sky, Montana

June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

June 27, 2009
Day of Architecture
Utrecht, The Netherlands

July 13, 2009
Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
Phoenix, AZ.

August 12-14
Texas Department of Transportation “Save a Life Summit”
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September 2, 2009
Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
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September 11, 2009
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Honda R&D Americas
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INFORMS Roundtable
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October 21, 2009
California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
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November 5
Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
Uncasville, Connecticut

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Yale University
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Monday, February 22
Yale University School of Architecture
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University of Delaware
Delaware Center for Transportation

April 5-7
University of Utah
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International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
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Monday, April 26
Edmonton Traffic Safety Conference
Edmonton, Canada

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Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario

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Fondo de Prevención Vial
Bogotá, Colombia

Tuesday, August 31
Royal Automobile Club
Perth, Australia

Wednesday, September 1
Australasian Road Safety Conference
Canberra, Australia

Wednesday, September 22

Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
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Wisconsin Dells, WI

Wednesday, October 20
Rutgers University
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Piscataway, NJ

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
Injury Prevention Forum

Monday, May 2
Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
Boise, Idaho

Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California

Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
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Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
Madrid, Spain

April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
Brisbane, Australia

April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
Sydney, Australia

April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
Melbourne, Australia

January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
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January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto

February 22, 2013
ISL Engineering
Edmonton, Canada

March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
Melbourne, Australia

May 8, 2013
New York State Association of
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Rochester, NY

August 18, 2013 “Ingenuity” Conference
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September 26, 2013
TransComm 2013
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Officials’ Subcommittee on Transportation
Grand Rapids MI



April 2009

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