Collision Notification System calls 911 when a crash occurs Alert: Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University are developing a high-tech system to call 911 automatically to help in accidents in areas that can go unnoticed.

Intrepid Commuter

September 01, 1997

NELSON SCHABDACH kissed his wife and headed toward work early on Aug. 23. But he never arrived at his job at John D. Lucas Printing Co. in Dundalk.

Instead, he was critically injured in a 6: 30 a.m., one-car accident when his vehicle ran off the road at the busy interchange of Interstate 695 east and Interstate 95 north. His car was hidden from a search party of relatives by the dense shrubs and trees that fill the highway's island.

Nearly 30 hours later, Schabdach's family found him lying unconscious in a stream that runs through the grassy area also hidden from the heavy traffic a few feet away. He has head injuries and is fighting for his life at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

"Our family drove by that spot 35 times looking for him, and we did not see anything," said Anthony Schabdach, his son.

State police say cars can disappear in wooded areas when they run off the highway at high speeds, even on heavily traveled sections of road. It's a frightening prospect -- and a real concern for commuters on the nation's highways, experts say.

To guard against it, researchers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory have been developing a high-tech system, called the Automated Collision Notification System, to call 911 automatically when a crash happens.

The system is being designed to help victims in accidents where a crash can go unnoticed -- sometimes for days.

In 1994, a Baltimore County woman struggled to remain alive for four days with a broken back, severe blood loss and other injuries after the pickup truck she was riding in wrecked in a location not visible from the road. A landscape worker found her lying next to the driver, who had died in the crash.

The automated system, being developed under a federal contract, works through crash-sensing devices and the Global Positioning System -- a satellite link making it possible to pinpoint an object anywhere on Earth. It could be available by 2000.

Meanwhile, the Schabdach family sadly searches again -- this time for answers and witnesses to the accident.

Vivid warnings mark site of Beltway ramp crash

You won't need glasses to spot the new signs warning drivers to slow down on the curving ramp from the Baltimore Beltway to Interstate 83 north.

That spot -- the scene of a fatal crash last month in which a gasoline tanker carrying more than 8,000 gallons of fuel crashed on the curve -- has been re-evaluated by State Highway Administration engineers. They decided to reduce the speed limit from 40 mph to 35 mph, said an administration spokeswoman.

In addition, the agency placed huge yellow warning signs about the dangerous curve at key locations, beginning on the Beltway approach to the ramp.

"It's all up to drivers," said Valerie Burnett Edgar. "Hopefully, drivers will heed the warnings. Certainly, in the next few months, people are going to remember to slow down there. It'll be interesting to see what happens after that."

Air bag debate drags on; removal remains illegal

Here's the latest summation of the national air bag debate: Hurry up and wait.

That's about the best report Intrepid can offer from federal regulators considering whether drivers should be given the right to decide whether they want to be protected by automobile air bags.

Debate has been swirling for nearly nine months over the devices installed in late-model vehicles. While the bags have been credited with saving 2,000 lives in recent years, they also are to blame for 80 deaths -- including those of 44 children -- in low-speed accidents that experts say the victims would otherwise have survived.

Youngsters and smaller people, mostly women, appear at high risk, safety advocates say, so a proposal to allow owners to disconnect the air bags has been mulled for months by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Last week, those officials said a decision, expected this spring, has been delayed in the face of opposition from interest groups.

Automakers, insurers and air bag suppliers have lobbied the government to limit air bag deactivation to cases when a vulnerable passenger must sit in front, for example, for medical reasons. The industry wanted the agency to define who was at risk and grant waivers to disconnect air bags on a case-by-case basis -- adding another layer to the bureaucracy.

Nearly 15,000 worried consumers are seeking waivers to disconnect their air bags.

A head-on collision on the issue is expected by year's end. For now, though, Intrepid reminds all that it's illegal for a dealer or mechanic to disconnect those bags.

Shortcuts

It'll cost you a bit more to get away this Labor Day, a regional American Automobile Association survey shows. The cost of regular, self-serve fuel is an average of $1.25 per gallon, 6 cents higher than in July. The American Automobile Association surveyed 30 gas stations throughout the state, excluding Prince George's, Charles and Montgomery counties. Don't plan to travel on the North Point Boulevard ramp to the Beltway after tomorrow. The Maryland Transportation Authority is closing the ramp for good as part of a $89.5 million project to widen the northern approach to the Key Bridge. Drivers are urged to follow detours.

Pub Date: 9/01/97

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