The tragic death of Princess Diana of Great Britain is great cause for mourning and sadness. But it is also a moment for reflection. I am very troubled over the recent media attention, which is focusing on contributory issues to the accident. They are neglecting to include one of the most important factors in the debate: that those who didn't wear seatbelts died.
These are some of the disturbing facts that have emerged which are not being seriously discussed in the press:
It is my contention that had the Princess and Mr. Al Fayed been wearing their seat belts, it is highly likely that they would have survived this crash with major but non-life-threatening injuries, just like their bodyguard. It is sad to reflect on how needless these deaths were, but we can turn this tragedy around. Surely, the number of people that have died in automobile accidents, worldwide, rivals the number that have died of AIDS or due to landmines. It would be a fitting legacy if we could use this tragedy to educate people about the use of seatbelts, once and for all, well and above all other safety systems designed into modern cars, as the primary device to save lives in car accidents.
Many, particularly in the United States, will incorrectly argue that alcohol caused this accident. There are surely some misguided safety Nazis which will hastily cling to the "speed kills" argument. There are even those that could be well-meaning but impetuous enough to conclude that the lack of expensive airbag technology for rear-seat passengers is to blame for Diana's death. It is clear that driver error, which may have been furthered by the motorcycles' involvement, as well as the Mystery Fiat Uno, ultimately caused the driver to veer into the cement pillar.
In racing, one of the most dangerous reflexes to avoid, particularly in rear-wheel-drive cars, is the reflex to immediately lift off the throttle (gas pedal) when a potentially dangerous situation is sensed on the part of the driver. Unless it is done gently, it can redistribute the car's weight such that the rear end of the car no longer maintains traction, causing the car to enter an uncontrollable skid. This is especially true in a downhill situation, where, due to gravity, a driver is more likely to lift off the throttle, as it was in the tunnel. This would explain why the car aimed towards the pillar, whether or not the Fiat was involved.
But these arguments are merely secondary. The Princess' car could just as easily have been fleeing a truly dangerous situation and been in similar circumstances. I am saddened to conclude that the reason the Princess and her companion died was because they did not wear their seatbelts. The fact is: seat belts save lives, and are the single most effective safety system in any automobile.
There is no immunity to the laws of physics, not even for wealthy people that sit in the back seats of chauffered automobiles. Unlike American seat belts, the German 3-point seatbelts are very comfortable, and are available for all passengers. The Princess could have easily snuggled with her boyfriend, yet remain safely protected by her seatbelt. I suppose if the Princess and Mr. Al Fayed had thought about that, we'd all be praying for their speedy recovery, and not for the future of Diana's two sons.
There were no surprises in the reports released by the French late in 1998 regarding their conclusions about the crash. As expected, they blamed alcohol and high speed for the accident. Their lack of creativity in choosing the usual scapegoats is reprehensible. Surely, these factors were contributory, but without being able to determine the effects of alcohol in Henri Paul, as well as the effects of the unfound Fiat Uno on the crash, they are unable to make any final conclusions about the cause of the accident. But based on crash data, it is very clear to state that Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed would have survived had they worn seat belts.
I recently had the good fortune to work with a high-level employee from Mercedes-Benz who shed light on a number of previously undisclosed issues regarding Princess Diana's death. Unfortunately, what this tells us about the inaccuracy in the media, as well as how untrustworthy the French authorities have been regarding the truth around this accident is disgraceful!
Mercedes-Benz, GmbH, did an internal investigation about the crash with the information that was available to them. As is typical, they investigate every accident to the fullest extent allowed, since their goal is to make a car so that its belted occupants may survive a crash well beyond the artificial limits placed on them by the government. For them, being "good enough" to meet DOT or TüV standards isn't good enough. Unfortunately, to this day, the French authorities have not allowed Mercedes-Benz to examine the car. Of course, this severely impacted their ability to analyze the crash.
Because the roof was cut before Mercedes-Benz had a chance to examine the car prevented them from determining how the roof behaved during the crash. Of course, no one is arguing that extreme measures needed to be taken to extract the remains of the occupants from the vehicle. But without examining the car afterwards, including the roof, there was no way for Mercedes-Benz to adequately reconstruct the accident.
Romantic followers of the British Throne find some solace in claims that Princess Diana spoke her last words to doctors arriving at the accident scene. This is utterly false. One of the conclusions Mercedes-Benz was able to make regarded what happened in the last seconds of Diana's life. On impact, her unrestrained body flew into the back of the front passenger seat and further into the bullet-proof windshield where she landed. Had the glass not been bullet-proof, she might have been ejected from the car. She still would have likely been killed. Mercifully, the impact killed her within seconds. The reason the bodyguard's injuries were so severe is because of Diana's impact into his seat at 100 km per hour. Privately, officials were convinced that all four occupants of the car would have survived the accident had they been wearing seatbelts. Mercedes-Benz has significant crash data of their own to make such a determination. However, for reasons of liability, they are not able to make any such claims in public.
What upsets me the most is that whenever we see an important official enter or exit an automobile on the television, they are never wearing seat belts. Sadly, it seems that the rich and famous still haven't learned from Princess Diana's tragedy. I wonder if Mohammed Al Fayed wears a seat belt now...
[Editor's Note: Many new facts emerged after I originally published this article on my web page. I had originally believed that the damage to the roof was due to the car rolling prior to impact, whereas we now learned that this damage was due to the post-impact ricochet into the opposite wall. As well, the photos we all saw in the media showed the roof after it had been cut open, so there is no way to determine, from a distance, what the car looked like immediately after the accident. Nonetheless, the tragic result was the same due to the lack of seat belts. Also, it must be noted that I am not a professional Accident Reconstructionist, but have spent a great deal of time in the pursuit of automotive safety knowledge. Finally, thank you to all who have sent me mail as a result of this page. You are free to redistribute this information, as long as you follow these two simple rules: (a) my name stays with the article, and (b) you quote it in whole, not in part. .sjb.]