August 23, 2001 11:00 pm

NASCAR had a wonderful opportunity to take the lead in automotive and racing safety in the wake of Dale Earnhardts death in February, but has let the public down.

NASCAR released its inquiry into the accident this week, indicating a broken seat belt contributed to the popular race car drivers death. But the racing organization sadly fell short of taking the needed steps to enhance safety both in and out of the race cars.

Earnhardt was killed when his car crashed into a wall on the final lap of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18.

NASCARs report said beginning next season it will install black boxes in cars, similar to the flight-data recorders on airplanes. This will help researchers understand the forces present during crashes and work to improve safety. The organization also will commission a study on restraint systems and review seat-belt strength. NASCAR also plans to open a research center in North Carolina next year to work on safety issues.

These efforts are well and good. But NASCAR could have responded more directly to Earnhardts death by requiring drivers to wear head and neck restraints. Earnhardt was not wearing such a restraint during his crash. Although the report indicated it was not clear if the device would have saved his life, use of restraints has grown dramatically among Winston Cup drivers since February. NASCAR should not just suggest, but should require all its drivers to wear these devices.

NASCAR also could have initiated immediate steps to make the racing environment safer by requiring that cushion devices be installed on race track walls where appropriate.

Drivers everywhere, and not just in the racing world, are looking for NASCAR to take meaningful steps to improve automotive safety. The organization had a wonderful opportunity to toughen its stance and improve conditions, but so far is showing it only wants to study and talk. Research centers and black boxes are fine, but action is needed to help prevent deaths and injuries.


Hats off to the La Grande School District and its classified employees who successfully negotiated a revision to the employees contract.

The 2 percent salary increase that the 120 workers will receive in 2001-02 is not out of line. Neither are the salary terms for the following year, which call for a pay increase that equals the rise in the urban Consumer Price Index plus 1 percent. The district also was generous to pick up the $54 a month that employees are now paying for health insurance premiums.

The administration and employees have set a good example. Collective bargaining works well when both sides respect each other and work hard to achieve a settlement that is reasonable and fair for all.