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No tsunami odyssey for sci-fi author

Arthur C. Clarke, who wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey, lived in Sri Lanka at one time. Is he still there? Did the tsunami affect him?

The British-born science fiction writer, 87, who has lived as an "honored guest" in Sri Lanka since 1956, survived the tragedy but lost his diving school and two beach bungalows.

As reported by Agence France Presse, he is suffering post-polio syndrome and uses a wheelchair; he wasn't in the area when the tsunami ravaged much of Sri Lanka's coastline Dec. 26.

Clarke posted a statement on his foundation's Web site, www.clarkefoundation.org, saying, in part: "I am enormously relieved that my family and household have escaped the ravages of the sea that suddenly invaded most parts of coastal Sri Lanka, leaving a trail of destruction. Our staff members are all safe . . . but many others were not so fortunate."

Clarke urged "concerned friends" to contribute to the relief efforts launched by national and international organizations.

Brake-lights breakdown

In the 1980s, a third brake light was mandated for all passenger cars in an effort to reduce the number of rear-end collisions. Since then I haven't seen any statistics showing the effectiveness of this mandate. Has any such survey been done?

Center brake lights first appeared on vehicles in the mid 1980s, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In 1998, the agency released findings of an extensive study of the brake lights' effectiveness through a year-to-year comparison of accident statistics between 1986 and 1994. The study used police-reported information.

It concluded that the center brake lights had prevented from 92,000 to 137,000 police-reported crashes and from 58,000 to 70,000 nonfatal injuries. It also estimated that the lamps save $3.18 in property damage alone for every dollar that they cost.

The statistical analyses are based on police-reported crashes in Florida, Missouri, Utah, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and Texas.

Among the other findings:

+ The lamps were most effective in the first years after their introduction in 1986. But over the last six years of the study, they still reduced the number of rear-impact crashes by 4.3 percent.

+ The annual consumer cost of the third brake lights in cars and trucks sold in the United States is close to $206-million, or about $13.60 per car and up to $20 per truck in 1994 dollars.

+ The lamps save $655-million in vehicle and property damage a year.

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