Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Swinging Doors of Death

My big conclusion? People underplay the implications of suicide when they talk about suicide doors.

a regrettable visual aid — apologies
It’s the kind of immediately Google-able question you’d normally have while alone in the car, but fortunately it occurred to me while I had a navigator present, and so we searched out the origin of the phrase “suicide doors” in order to figure out what about these doors was so inherently self-life-ending.

According to Wikipedia, the term presumably originated as a result of two facts:
  1. The danger of the suicide door is the possibility of it opening in transit. A car occupant trying to catch the door by the handle to prevent its opening risks being jettisoned out of the car as the door is slammed open by the oncoming airflow. … In the era before seat belts, the accidental opening of such doors meant that there was a greater risk of falling out of the vehicle compared to front-hinged doors, where airflow pushed the doors closed rather than opening them further.
  2. Suicide doors were especially popular with mobsters in the gangster era of the 1930s, supposedly due to the ease of pushing passengers out of moving vehicles, according to Dave Brownell, the former editor of Hemmings Motor News.
This is great historical information, but it’s nonetheless problematic that neither of these car-caused death scenarios constitutes suicide in the typical sense. In the former, it’s more accidental self-killing, which might technically be considered suicide but which more broadly might be considered death as a result of the worst human carelessness. (Other examples: mixing ammonia and bleach and making that toxic gas, trying to hug a bear because it looks sad, or using a handgun to drive a bee away from your face.) In the latter, it’s explicitly homicide — people don’t generally choose to have gangsters plug them and then shove them out of moving cars, unless human motivations have evolved that much since the 1930s.

However, in the same way that the English-speaking world has slowly realized how awful it sounds to refer to sleeveless undershirts as “wife-beaters,” the automobile industry seems to have veered away from “suicide doors.” Wikipedia notes that suicide doors are now officially referred to by various auto makers as coach doors, FlexDoors, freestyle doors to simply rear-access doors, the last of these being the most descriptive but also the move provocative. It’s also noticed that in recent years, cars have been made with rear-hinged doors that can only be opened when the front doors are opened, to decrease the awful trend of passenger fall-out. It does make you wonder, however: What the hell was happening in early twentieth-century cars that doors were flying open and people were tumbling out? What advancements in door-shutting technology have slowed this trend?

There’s a second suicide-related phrase that motorists should know, and this one make s a lot more sense: suicide lanes. Here, the name makes sense, even if the lanes themselves exist in order to prevent you from offing yourself. If you meet another car head-on, that could be the end of your story. Personally, I’d prefer not to think about killing myself while driving, but cheers to keeping you alert.

In closing, I motion we drop the phrase “suicide doors” in favor of “danger doors” (which, accurate) or “gangster doors” (which, cool and exciting and also accurate) and also make a group effort to stop falling out of cars (which, obvious).


Be clean and nice. Take your parents’ advice.

Cars, previously:

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