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Many Americans Still Consider Themselves Too Cool for Seat Belts

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Wearing a seat belt is the automotive equivalent of wearing both straps on a backpack. Sure, it might not look cool, but the benefits definitely outweigh any real or potential loss of status. We know this. Of course we know this. Yet the latest figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that more than 10 percent of Americans are still determined to ride seat belt commando.

It’s true that cars have gotten safer over the last century, but that’s not saying much. Driving or riding in a car remains one of the most dangerous things we can do, and we do it constantly. (One wildlife cinematographer told mental_floss that the riskiest part of filming great white sharks is getting to the shoot.) Cars are more numerous and faster than ever, and drivers are more distracted. Last year saw 35,092 deaths by motor vehicle on American roads, a 7.2 percent increase over the previous year. Of the 10,000 people killed in passenger vehicles, nearly half had not been wearing seat belts. 

This is not to say that we’re headed in the wrong direction. Seat belt use has shot up in the last few decades, from 11 percent in 1980 to a whopping 88.5 percent today, in large part thanks to mandatory "click it or ticket" seat belt laws and broader cultural acceptance. For most of us, putting on a seat belt has become an automatic act. 

But there are holdouts. Motivations for seat belt refusal vary, Russ Rader of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety told Aarian Marshall at WIRED. Some people may opt out of seat belts for medical reasons (most of which are not supported by evidence). Others give the condom excuse: wearing a seat belt just doesn't feel as good. But Rader says one of the biggest reasons may be good old-fashioned petulance: "Some people dislike the government telling them what to do." It’s probably no coincidence that most seat belt refusers are men.

Ironically, men are the ones most likely to benefit from wearing their seat belts. Crash test facilities only started including "female" dummies in 2011, which means that most of the cars and seat belts on the road today were designed to protect men’s larger, differently proportioned bodies. 

So no, seat belts are not a perfect solution. But between feeling slightly uncomfortable and getting launched through the windshield like a ragdoll at 60 miles an hour, we know which one we’d choose.

[h/t WIRED]

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Wisconsin Considers Building a Highway Lane for Self-Driving Cars
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Self-driving cars are already a reality, as companies like Google and Tesla have demonstrated. But the logistics of getting them on the roads with human-operated cars have slowed down their long-anticipated takeover. In Wisconsin, highway planners are looking into one way to accommodate autonomous vehicles when they arrive. Dedicated lanes for driverless cars are being considered for I-94, USA Today’s Journal Sentinel reports.

The project is supported by Foxconn, the Taiwanese tech supplier building a new facility 20 miles outside of downtown Milwaukee. Once the site is complete, it will cover 20 million square feet and employ up to 13,000 people. According to the company, setting aside space for self-driving vehicles could ease traffic congestion, both from new workers and cargo trucks, after the factory opens.

Officials were already planning to expand I-94 from six lanes to eight to accommodate the eventual increase in traffic, but Foxconn says that may not be enough. “We’re thinking about two years down the road; they’re thinking 20 years down the road,” Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, said at a meeting of the Greater Milwaukee Committee.

While Sheehy said the autonomous car lane proposal is “on the table,” he didn’t make any promises regarding the plan’s future. Wisconsin isn’t the only state looking ahead to new developments in road travel: In October, tech investors pitched an idea to Washington state officials to convert Interstate 5 into a corridor for autonomous vehicles between Seattle and Vancouver.

[h/t Journal Sentinel]

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Ford Tests Exoskeletons That Make Overhead Tasks Easier for Workers
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Engineers have already developed exoskeletons capable of supporting elderly people and helping paralyzed people walk. But the technology offers benefits to able-bodied wearers as well. That's what employees are learning at Ford's U.S. factories. As Road Show reports, workers there are suiting up in upper body exoskeletons designed to alleviate fatigue and decrease their chance of injury.

Assembling car parts requires workers to reach their arms above their heads thousands of times a day. While most healthy individuals would have no problem doing this type of work for a few minutes at a time, the rate at which these employees are completing the tasks puts an enormous strain on their bodies. This can lead to back and shoulder fatigue, soreness, and even injury.

In an effort to make their workforce more comfortable and productive, Ford has been testing the EksoVest from Ekso Bionics in two of its American auto plants. The non-powered suits fit people between 5 feet and 6 feet 4 inches tall. The lightweight design provides up to 15 pounds of support to each arm without weighing wearers down or restricting their movements. According to Ford, the pilot program has contributed to an 83 percent drop in the number of incidents that led to time off between 2005 and 2016. And on top of staying healthy enough to go to work, employees have reported feeling more energized during their off hours.

The EksoVest has already helped workers launch several new vehicles, including the 2018 Ford Mustang and the 2018 Lincoln Navigator. Following the trial program's success, the automobile company next plans to test the technology in factories in Europe and South America.

[h/t Road Show]

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