Will NASCAR’s Car of tomorrow induce recklessness?

Technology no doubt has made it possible for NASCAR racers to drive the safest cars possible, but researchers at Penn State are wondering: When NASCAR debuts its "Car of Tomorrow" this weekend, will drivers feel so safe in the car, will they drive more recklessly?

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In a statement today Todd Nesbit, an avid NASCAR fan and assistant professor of economics at Penn State Erie, said he will be counting the number of accidents - and how many of those drivers walk away without a scratch. NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow's main strategy is to increase driver safety, reduce costs and improve efficiency - but it also will allow for more side-by-side racing on the track - with a goal of bringing greater parity to the sport. Naturally, NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow campaign has seen its share of critics. Detractors say the cars are ugly, too boxy, slow and too expensive. But proponents of course only need to point to the deaths of Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin, Tony Roper and Dale Earnhardt in the past few years to demonstrate a need for better, safer cars. But that's the rub - in 2006, Nesbit and Russell Sobel, professor of economics at West Virginia University, produced a study that explored how drivers react to having cars so safe that they can generally walk away with no injuries after high-speed crashes into a concrete wall or another car, said in a statement. "Based on results of our study, we would project that drivers will drive more recklessly and take more risks while driving the Car of Tomorrow," Nesbit said.

"Initially, there will be a learning curve for everyone, which will likely increase the number of accidents as drivers and crews get used to the vehicles. Once the learning curve has passed, we predict that the new normal rate of crashes will be higher than it is currently because of the response to additional safety features on the Car of Tomorrow." The Car of Tomorrow's safety features are of primary significance to Nesbit. They include: * The car is 4 inches wider and 2 inches taller than current NASCAR race cars. * The driver compartment, or "roll cage," has shifted 3 inches to the rear. * The driver's seat has shifted 4 inches to the right, allowing more protection from a driver's side impact. * More "crush-ability" is built into the car on both sides, ensuring even more protection. * The exhaust system is another safety innovation - it runs through the body, diverting heat away from the driver and exiting on the right side. In the statement, Nesbit also noted the potential financial impact that the new cars could have on teams. "While additional safety is beneficial in terms of driver safety, primarily with a reduction in injuries, it also may reduce the profitability of the teams," Nesbit said. "NASCAR promises that the Car of Tomorrow will reduce the cost of building the cars. For example, production will become more streamlined and the teams will not have to build specialized cars for each track, which is a costly process. "However, these cost advantages may be offset by the increased number of accidents and the need to rebuild damaged cars as a result," he added. The Car of Tomorrow, which will debut at at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 25 and is currently scheduled to run in 16 races this season, 26 events in 2008 and the entire 2009 season.

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