Can Classic Cars Be Safe Cars?

IS IT A CHOICE – “CLICK IT OR TICKET” 
When a classic automobile is restored or preserved as in it’s original condition, should current automobile safety standards be applied? We know the drill; the first thing you do when you slide behind the wheel is buckle up for safety. If you don't, you risk getting a ticket that could cost you as much as $271. (see table of costs by state below)

Some of the biggest changes to cars over the years have been in the safety department - but if you’re restoring your classic car, what should you do? After all, installing updated safety equipment would certainly compromise the historical accuracy of your vehicle and, in some cases, a retrofit to current safety standards would simply be impossible.


Photo has been cropped, hopefully for obvious reasons -
seat belts save lives
We found several examples where lives might have been saved had the requirement for seat belts been enforced.  But under current law, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, owners of classic cars are not required to install safety belts or shoulder harnesses if they were not original equipment on the vehicles. Ironically, if you owned a car from the pre-effective date of the 1968 law mandating seat belts, and wanted to win a car show, you wouldn't put seat belts in it, because you could lose points from the judges. Likewise, some owners simply believe that any modification to a classic car is wrong and to be avoided, and many classic-car owners believe that trying to do so would spoil a vehicle's authenticity. Even car buffs are split about whether safety issues should prevail over retaining their vehicles' original state.
SUMMER DRIVING TIME

Not a day goes by that we might see someone tooling down the road in a vintage automobile--a '50’s-era Chevy, a ‘60’s Mustang or a dilapidated Volkswagen Beetle from the '60s. Whether in Southern California, Indiana or Georgia, what's up with vintage car owners who cruise around without seat belts? Because the car was manufactured before the 1964 federal law requiring factory-installed seat belts, no safety restraints are required.

Stephanie Tombrello, executive director of Safety Belt Safe USA, said driving without seat belts, especially in a vintage car, is putting your life on the line. "Anyone riding around in a classic car without belts is at major risk if they get into an accident.... The older the car, the less forgiving it will be in an accident," said Tombrello,

These are five areas in which you may encounter safety issues with your classic car.

#1 - SEAT BELTS 
This is a serious safety issue if you plan to do any road driving in your car. The statistics regarding unrestrained passengers - how seat belts reduce fatal injuries by 45% and how 64% of car crash fatalities involve unrestrained passengers - are a testament to how bad of an idea it is to drive without a seat belt at any speed.

#2 - BRAKES

Chrysler, Ford, and GM cars were the first to receive initial anti-lock brake technology in the 1970’s, but it wasn’t until a decade or two later that traction control and other aspects of modern braking really started to become common. It’s tricky but possible to retrofit an older vehicle with an anti-lock brake system, as long as you can locate a “donor” car with similar size, weight, and distribution specs.

#3 - CHASSIS 
X-Frame of a '59 Cadillac
If your car dates from the mid-50’s until 1970, there’s a decent chance it’s utilized a X-frame chassis. This type of frame left cars particularly vulnerable to side-impacts and tended to be fairly fragile at the crossing point of the X. As Ralph Nader famously noted in the Corvair story, "Unsafe at Any Speed", there were a number of popular news stories featuring X-frame vehicles that simply cracked in half upon impact. While replacing an X-frame chassis is possible, it’s not a particularly simple retrofit.

#4 - CRUMPLE ZONES
Understanding how crash forces are distributed throughout the body of a car dates back to a Mercedes-Benz crumple zone patent in the 1950's, but this technology wasn’t fully integrated into cars in any widespread manner until much later. For that reason, your classic car may not have been developed to “crumple” in certain areas and would be more likely to transfer the force of impact to the passengers within the car rather than allow external aspects to absorb the shock.

#5 - AIRBAGS 
While very rudimentary airbag patents have existed since the 1950’s, and some manufacturers began to testing true airbags on certain models in the 1970’s, modern airbag systems didn’t become a requirement in cars until 1998. This means that the vast majority of classic cars, especially those manufactured before the mid-1970’s, have no airbags whatsoever. While airbag retrofitting is possible for some 1980’s models, there isn’t much of an option for older classics.

YOUNGER DRIVERS DRIVE

Longtime enthusiasts say an increasing number of teenagers and young adults are restoring and driving older vehicles because they can be fairly inexpensive to acquire. But many of these cars are simply worn-out and beat; usually more rust than metal. The tires are bald, the exhaust is hanging, bumpers are missing, and often doors, hoods and trunks are wired or taped closed.... 
Rusty 1969 Camaro
If you are the parent of a driving teenager ... take a good look at what your beloved child is driving.  Allowing inexperienced teens to drive some of these vintage cars is risky, safety advocate Tombrello said.

"I would question the parents permitting their children to make that choice," she said. "Look at the crash involvement with teenagers. You are asking a relatively inexperienced driver out in complicated traffic to maneuver a vehicle that does not have the latest safety equipment. You are setting the stage for a more perilous outcome. Motor vehicle crashes are the No. 1 cause of death and injury in children and young adults, and it has been that way for years. Sixty percent of children who die in car crashes are unrestrained."

But in California, the law that exempts classic cars from having seat belts applies to adults, not children. State traffic safety regulations dictate that children younger than 6 or who weigh less than 60 pounds must be secured in a booster seat or child safety seat even if they are in a vintage vehicle, said Anne DaVigo, a spokeswoman with the California Highway Patrol in Sacramento. California is one of 18 states in which police can stop vehicles if they suspect seat-belt noncompliance.

IN ALL CASES - PRACTICE DEFENSIVE DRIVING HABITS

Crashes - especially fatal ones - involving classic cars are rare because the owners are so cautious with them. Classic owners do most of their driving to and from classic-car shows, conventions and parades. The typical mileage for collector cars is usually less than 1,000 a year. A well-known insurance company executive said he cannot remember a fatal crash in a vintage car in the 22 years he has been in business. Only 0.2% of his customers in any given year file claims over collisions with other cars.

Vehicles built before the 1930’s, just can't be retrofitted for safety equipment. They will never meet any modern crash test criteria for safety," said Eron Shosteck, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. After all, bolting yourself to a 70-year-old piece of wood isn't really going to stop anything.

WHAT IS THE LAW?

As an example of how State laws vary, consider:

Most states, including Michigan, New York and California, allow classic car owners register their vehicles with a "vintage" license, but with restrictions. In New York, cars registered as historic vehicles are prohibited from day-to-day use, such as commuting to work.

In Virginia, a classic-car owner can obtain a standard registration that allows the vehicle to be used like any other model as long as it meets current safety standards for such things as brakes, headlights, turn signals, tires and seat belts. Or, the owner can obtain a vintage license that limits its use to car club events, parades and exhibits as well as occasional pleasure driving no more than 250 miles from home.

In Maryland, registrants must attest that they will not transport people in the cars on highways. And in Alabama, classic car owners can be fined and stripped of their vintage-vehicle registrations for driving their classic cars other than for a show or a parade.

WHAT'S THE COST FOR NO SEAT BELT USE?
State
Who is Covered (Yrs.)
In What Seat
Maximum Fine 1st Offense
Alabama
>15
Front
$25
Alaska
>16
All
$15
American Samoa
No data
No data
No data
Arkansas
>15
Front
$25 (plus court costs and city/county jail fines)
California
>16
All
$162 ($20 fine + $142 in penalties and assessments)
Connecticut
>7
Front
$92 for >18 ($50 fine + $7 fee + $35 surcharge)

$120 for <18 ($75 fine + $10 fee + $35 surcharge)
Delaware 1
>16
All
$25
D.C.
>16
All
$50
Florida
>6
Front
$30
6 - 17
All
Georgia
8 - 17
All
$15
>18
Front
Guam
All
All
$100
Hawaii
>8
All
$92 (including administrative fees)
Illinois
<18, if driver <18
All
$25 plus court costs
>16
All
Indiana
>16
All
$25
Iowa
All
Front
$127.50 (including court costs)
Kansas
14 - 17
All
$60
>18
Front
(other seating positions are secondary enforcement)
$10
Kentucky
<6 and >50"
All
$25
>7
Louisiana
>13
All
$25
Maine
>18
All
$50
Maryland
>16
All
(secondary for rear seats)
$50
Michigan
>16
Front
$25
Minnesota
<7 (and >57") or >8
All
$25, plus approx. $75 court surcharge (surcharge varies slightly by county)
Mississippi
>7
Front
$25
New Jersey
<7 and >80 lbs.
All
(secondary for rear seats)
$46 (including court costs)
>8
New Mexico
>18
All
$25
New York
<16
All
$50
All
Front
North Carolina
>16
All
(secondary for rear seats)
$25.50 + $100.50 in court costs ($10 + no court costs for rear seats)
Northern Mariana Islands
>6
All
$25
Oklahoma
>13
Front
$20
Oregon
All
All
$110
Puerto Rico
>9 (or >57")

$50
Rhode Island
>18
All
$40
South Carolina
>6
All
$25
Tennessee
>16
Front
$10
Texas
>15
All
$50 (driver or passenger)
<7 (and >57') - <17
$200 (driver)
Utah
All
All
$45 (2nd offense)
Virgin Islands
All
Front
$25 to $250
Washington
>8 or >4'9"
All
$124
West Virginia
8 - 17
All
$25
>18
Front
Wisconsin
>8
All
$10
Total
34 States + D.C., PR, 4 Terr.
All (18 + D.C., 2 Terr.)
Rear Secondary (4)
Front Seat Only (12 + VI)


State
Who is Covered (Yrs.)
In What Seat
Maximum Fine 1st Offense
Arizona
8-15
All
$10
>8
Front
Colorado
>18 (primary for <18)
Front
$71
Idaho
>7 (primary for drivers <18)
All
$10 (drivers <18 pay $51.50,
including court costs)
Massachusetts
>13
All
$25
Missouri
8 - 15 (primary)
All
$50
>16
Front
$10 (driver and passenger)
Montana
>6
All
$20
Nebraska
>18
Front
$25
Nevada
>6
All
$25
North Dakota
>18
Front
$20
<18 (primary)
All
$25 + 1 point on license
Ohio
8 - 14
All
$30 driver; $20 passenger
>15
Front
Pennsylvania
>18
Front
$10
8 - 17 (primary)
All
South Dakota
>18
Front
$25
Vermont
>18 (primary for <18)
All
$25
Virginia
All drivers; passengers >18
(primary for passengers <18 in all seats)
Front
$25 (driver ticketed for passengers <18)
Wyoming
>9
All
$25 driver; $10 passenger
Total States
15 States
All (6)
Front Seat Only (9)

Conclusion -

1. Most important - install seat belts in whatever you drive!

2. Use common sense and practice defensive driving habits in what and how you drive. 40-50+ year old cars simply cannot drive and handle as a 2015 model can.

Read our other posts here

And always - drive safe for the conditions.

Your Garagistry Team

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