Paul Brand: Seat belt use again of critical concern

  • Article by: PAUL BRAND , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 29, 2003 - 11:00 PM

The loss of hockey legend Herb Brooks in a vehicle rollover has focused attention on seat belt use again. That week another motorist was also ejected and killed in a rollover on Interstate Hwy. 35W in Roseville.

As State Trooper Chuck Walarius said of Brooks' crash, "There was lots of room to live inside that vehicle," meaning that if Brooks had been buckled up, there's a very good chance he would have survived.

His vehicle did not strike a solid object. His vehicle was not subjected to a lethal impact or "sudden stop." The basic unitbody structure remained intact, and even though the roof was crushed to a degree, the passenger compartment -- the survival cell -- was intact. In other words, the extensive "crash management system" built into his vehicle functioned perfectly. He could have survived this crash.

The only failure was his decision to not use the system's key component -- the seat belt. None of the safety systems in modern vehicles can operate properly to protect the occupants if those occupants are not buckled up.

It's as simple as that.

For those who convolute the issue into some type of "personal freedom" or "personal choice" debate, my response is this: Seat belt use in motor vehicles is an operational necessity to ensure safe and continued control of the vehicle and to ensure proper function of the crash management system during a crash.

Every aspect of owning and operating a motor vehicle is a highly regulated, licensed and monitored privilege. There are no inherent "rights" or "freedoms" involved in driving. And it is absurd to think that the single most important factor in automotive safety -- proper seat belt use -- would somehow be an option based on an individual's misguided perception of "freedom," "right" or "choice."

To those who put forth the notion that motorists who choose not to buckle up know the potential risks and consequences, think again. Do you think for one second that Brooks or any other casualty of a potentially survivable crash actually knew the consequence of not buckling up -- that they would be dead before the end of that journey? Of course not. If they actually knew the potential consequence, they certainly would have buckled the seat belt.

We must stop debating seat belt use as if it's a political issue. We do have mandatory seat belt use laws, but still, roughly 30 percent of vehicle occupants are not buckled up. Each year, many Minnesotans die because they did not buckle up.

What's the point of not buckling up? Ignorance? Protest? Defiance? Does it somehow confirm the righteousness of someone's "personal freedom" political position?

No, it's just a death sentence in a serious crash or rollover. . . . that's all. And a terrible, unnecessary loss to families and friends.

QI recently did a brake job on an '89 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 with four-wheel discs. In addition to the standard brake job, I replaced the master cylinder with a remanufactured unit. The symptom is a spongy pedal when the engine is running that arose after replacing all of the parts and bleeding the system. The pedal is firm and does not bleed down when the engine is off. The brake booster failed a vacuum test so I replaced it with a remanufactured unit but the problem persists. The calipers are all that have not been replaced and the system has been bled and re-bled. The vehicle stops but the pedal goes all the way to the floor. What would you recommend as my next move?

AHave you tried pressure bleeding the hydraulic system? There still may be air trapped somewhere in the system that may not come out with manual bleeding, so it might be worth having a shop pressure bleed the system.

But there are a couple of possible explanations for the spongy pedal, even if there's no air trapped in the system. When you replaced the master cylinder, did you bench bleed the new unit? This involves removing air from the ports and orifices before mounting the master cylinder in the vehicle. Generally, this facilitates bleeding the rest of the system, and prevents air from getting trapped between the master cylinder and the calipers.

Is your Pathfinder equipped with one of Nissan's load compensating valves in the rear hydraulic system? This valve, which is commonly found on pickup trucks of this vintage, allows increased pressure to the rear brakes when the vehicle is significantly loaded. Tto reduce the potential for rear brake lockup, it also provides reduced brake pressure to the rear when the vehicle is empty or lightly loaded. If there is such a valve in the system, it must be included in the bleeding process.

I found information in my ALLDATA that suggests putting a two-inch block under the brake pedal before bleeding to prevent potential damage to the master cylinder by full-stroking the pedal during bleeding. It's possible that the replacement master cylinder was damaged when you repeatedly bled the brakes.

Also, there's an adjustment of the push-rod length on the master cylinder; Did you check this when you installed the replacement?

And finally, with the age of the vehicle, check to make sure the flexible hydraulic lines to the front calipers and rear axle are not bulging with hydraulic pressure when the brakes are applied.

To submit a question, write to Paul Brand, Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Please explain the problem in as much detail as possible and please include your daytime phone number in case I need more information. Because of the volume of mail received, it isn't always possible to send a personal reply.

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