DETROIT—Violent decapitations and permanent paralysis due to severing of the spinal cord are among the reasons cited by the Chrysler Corporation for its decision to recall all '97 automobiles containing the "neckbelts" safety feature.
"In the case of collision, it would appear that the neckbelts have a detrimental effect on overall passenger safety," read a statement released by the company Monday.
The recall, the most expensive in Chrysler's history, goes into effect early next week. In the meantime, the company is advising all motorists who use the neck belts to maintain a defensive driving stance at all times, as accidents may result in "crushed trachea, severe spinal and/or brain damage, and, in the most severe cases, sudden defenestration of the head area, as the entire region above the neck separates from the upper body, flying at tremendous speed through the breakaway glass of the windshield, rolling several yards into the street directly in front of the car," the Chrysler press release stated.
The neckbelts were developed with passenger safety in mind, say Chrysler spokespersons. "Our research showed that one of the biggest risks to motorists is the danger of passengers sustaining head injuries by striking the dashboard or the seat in front of them as their bodies are flung forward during a crash," Chrysler safety designer Robert McArdle said. "Our thinking was that by immobilizing the head and neck, this type of injury would decrease significantly."
The belts, McArdle said, were also intended to reduce the neck stress associated with whiplash. "Unfortunately, it appears that we were erroneous in this analysis as well," he added. "Even minor fender-benders seem to cause motorists wearing neckbelts to have their entire heads forcibly ripped from their torsos, landing in the front seat to the shocked screams of terrified onlookers."
Another negative side effect of the neckbelts is the psychological damage that may be suffered by eyewitnesses upon observing a convulsing, headless human body spontaneously jettison fountains of blood as the adrenaline-maximized heart furiously pumps quart after quart from the neck wound, coating the car interior, the Chrysler statement continued.
Neckbelt wearers are warned that a severed human head may remain alive for up to two minutes before blood loss, oxygen starvation and shock trauma cause it to lose consciousness.
"Brain death is something science still knows very little about," said Chrysler safety engineer Tom Savini, "but drivers should take note that law enforcement personnel have reported observing bouncing, rolling severed heads blinking their eyes and gasping for air as if attempting to speak minutes after separation from the torso on more than one occasion."
Savini said that such still-alive severed human heads "probably live out their last moments in a state of unimaginable agony," and urged caution on the part of drivers who wear the neckbelt device.
In addition to decapitation and paralysis, some consumer advocates have complained that the neckbelt safety devices inhibit side-to-side motion of the head, causing drivers to swerve wildly back and forth in order to maintain a clear view of the street. Other negative side effects cited include difficulty in breathing, eating and talking.
In the wake of industry-wide concern about the safety of the neckbelts, Chrysler is also reexamining the so-called "shrapnelizing" explosive dashboard which became a standard safety option on all new models in 1995.
"By splintering into literally thousands of rapidly spinning jagged fragments, which ricochet around the car's interior at tremendous speeds, tearing any living tissue inside to shreds in seconds, these dashboards may represent a significant safety risk to motorists," read a report submitted to CEO Robert Eaton by a Chrysler safety engineering team.
Many observers are comparing the Chrysler recall to the controversy surrounding the 1976 Ford Pinto, the economy-model compact which, when rear-ended, ignited its fuel tanks and became doused in flaming gasoline, causing passengers to ineffectually pound on the windows and scream as they were burned alive at superheated temperatures within, before exploding as a bomb does.