The Safety World Loses Two Respected Advocates

This month has been a sad one for safety advocates with the passing of two well-respected and pioneering engineers, who also happened to be friends and colleagues: Donald L. Friedman and Steven M. Forrest. Both were born in the Northeast, but made their homes in the Santa Barbara area; both were affiliated with General Motors.

Friedman died peacefully on July 16 just after his 88th birthday. Forrest, 59, died of injuries sustained in a motorcycle crash on July 19. Their deaths cap long and distinguished careers in advancing the causes of crashworthiness and occupant safety.

“Both of these gentleman will be sorely missed,” said Donald Slavik, of Robinson, Calcagnie, Robinson, Shapiro and Davis, who knew and worked with both men. “Don Friedman was a pioneer in the area of automotive safety.  His work has saved countless lives and prevented innumerable serious injuries that would have otherwise occurred in motor vehicle wrecks.  He demonstrated the fallacy of "diving" causing serious injuries in rollovers independent of roof crush by doing inverted drop tests on himself.  He was relentless in pushing for improvements and the acknowledgement of defects up until his death.  He recently filed a defect petition with NHTSA on the airbag sensing system and algorithms in GM cars. Steve Forrest was similarly a passionate seeker of the truth with respect to automotive design.  He was the go-to engineer on the subject of adequate and safe vehicle roof design.  He was a protege of Don Friedman, and a great expert witness.  Well prepared, proficient, and efficient.  He could communicate complex information to jurors with honesty and sincerity.”

Their obituaries detail a much compressed list of accomplishments: 

Friedman “as principal or with a team, designed, developed and produced: the periscope system for the Nautilus, the first nuclear submarine; a high-performance electric drive; the infrared seeker and guidance control for the Sidewinder missile, which was the first airplane-mounted missile able to track a target and shoot it down and instrumental weaponry in the Korean war; the 3 Lunar Rovers that landed on the moon, unfolded their wheels and traversed the lunar surface; the Minicars Transit and Car Rental System; experimental, research, large and electronic research safety vehicles; a dynamic dummy-occupied full-scale vehicle rollover crash test fixture (JRS) and quasi-static full-scale vehicle roof strength test fixture (M216); the HALO rollover protective systems for light truck vehicles used in, for example, the mining industry; and proofs of electronic drive-by-wire system algorithm defects.”

In addition, he authored “more than 150 technical papers and 7 patents, and testified before Congress on numerous occasions. He is responsible in part for more strict government vehicle safety standards. In his last 30 years, Don testified in more than 1000 personal injury and product liability cases; he helped win landmark cases against major vehicle manufacturers that forced recalls and safety improvements.

Friedman was the founder and principal of Xperts, a consulting firm. He also founded the Center for Injury Research (CfIR), “a non-profit foundation dedicated to improving vehicle crashworthiness and occupant safety, and crash-tested more than 50 vehicles.”

Well past the time that many retire, Friedman was still going to the office.

“He was working 40 hours a week,” said his son Keith Friedman. “That was his definition of retiring. And he brought a lot of people into the field to distribute the knowledge of occupant protection in general. Steve was one of those.”

Forrest “graduated from General Motors Institute as a Mechanical Engineer in 1979 and started his professional career as an engineer at Mini Cars Incorporated in Goleta, CA, which evolved to become Liability Research. With his partner, Steve Meyer, Steve created an automotive safety firm, Safety Analysis and Forensic Engineering, known as SAFE, in 1997. He became a highly respected expert witness in the field of automotive safety, testifying in automotive injury related trials. He wrote many technical papers on automotive safety and, through his work, he has influenced numerous changes in the automotive industry making vehicles safer for millions of drivers.”

“The world of auto safety advocates is small.  Independent ones, outside of government and industry, are even rarer,” said Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies “Their deaths are a major loss.”