Booster Masthead

Restoration Blvd.
April 2003

Columnist — Allen Wright

Personal Safety — On the Road in the U.S. and Thailand

I have been thinking a lot about personal safety lately.

Maybe it is because there is a madman in the Middle East with weapons of mass destruction that could harm millions of people. There is also the situation in North Korea that is somewhat unsettling.

But I think what really got me considering safety was a recent business trip I took to Bangkok, Thailand. Right now the police are battling the drug dealers and the drug dealers are winning.

Another battle is vehicle traffic in and around Bangkok. The traffic is rough in Thailand. The streets are narrower than in the United States and have three times as many cars on them. Sometimes it seems as if it would be faster to walk than to drive through the gridlock.

Despite the business on the streets, however, I saw very few accidents last week in Bangkok. In fact, on the 55 Freeway today I saw more accidents and disabled cars than I saw in a week in Thailand. It is apparent to this writer that vehicle road failure is something that seldom happens in Thailand.

The secret seems to be that Thai drivers prepare themselves mentally and prepare their vehicles mechanically for their journey.

I believe the mental preparation of the Thai driver has very little to do with the teachings of Buddha. They simply pay attention.

One thing that is unique is that they use their turn signals for all occasions including backing out of parking spaces. This simple act alerts other drivers of their intentions. I would like to have a dollar for every close call I have had in a shopping center parking lot.

Another aspect of the Thai driver’s preparation is mechanical upkeep and maintenance. Like the United States, Thailand has quick lubes but in Asia they offer other retail services including brake fluid changes, brake system service, cooling system checks, tire and front end check stations. They perform maintenance and road failures and accidents appear to be few.

I am now wondering about the old 99-point safety checks. Does anyone else remember the free safety checks offered by service stations and tire dealers?

They went like this: check air pressure in tires: 4 points. Check tires for wear: 4 points. Check wipers: 2 points. Check brakes: 4 points. Fluids: 3 points. And so on.

The only person that checks my wipers these days is me — when it rains.

When I was working at the old gas station we got 25 cents commission per blade sold, 50 cents per arm for a complete wiper arm replacement. With that kind of bonus, we always made sure that the customer’s wipers were in good condition and the driver could be sure they were ready for inclement weather. In America today, we get our wipers from the parts store when we remember to check them. In Thailand they purchase them from the retail service dealer.

When you do a restoration, you have to remember that all of your vehicles are used and are running on used parts. This, to me, is why safety service is important. Like the drivers in Bangkok, it is always a good plan to keep your daily driver or your weekend flier safe.

It is always hard for me to believe in today’s world that prior to 1962 most production vehicles had no seat belts. Even stranger, some older vehicles had no electrical circuit protection and that caused electrical fires. Brake master cylinders that were single cylinder in design caused many accidents.

On restoration projects, most of the safety items lacking on the production vehicles can be modified with the more modern systems.

The ’63 Plymouth Super Stock, believe it or not, came without seat belts, no fusible links in the major systems and single master cylinder brakes. It’s a recipe for disaster.

I have changed all of that. But safety is a priority for me. I want to keep my car — and its occupants — safe going down the road. But not everyone seems to feel the same way.

Selling safety to the average motorist in today’s world is a tough deal. Motorists know that the manufacturers have deep pockets and lawsuits are plenty when auto failures happen. Safety and cash settlements of lawsuits seem somewhat connected. TV’s 60 Minutes reporting of vehicle safety issues seem to just make things worse. Their features seem to paint the picture that everything that goes wrong with a vehicle is the fault of the original manufacturer — not the driver who never remembered to check his oil, tires, or brakes.

This writer believes that you can never be too safe while driving and, consequently, there is a huge market for safety parts and service.

The Middle East and Korea right now are probably the most unsafe places in the world. But even here in California it can be difficult to avoid conflicts every day.

As one wise Japanese businessman told me, "Make every day special." I say be safe, make every day special, and take care.

Originally published in the April 2003 issue of Automotive Booster Magazine.
Copyright April 2003 by KAL Publications Inc.

Covering the California auto parts aftermarket since 1928.