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Tomato bumpers

WHAT weighs a ton or two, is mostly metal, and is more fragile than a tomato? An automobile.

Some autos, anyway: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says a lot of the new ones have bumpers that won't even withstand a 5 m.p.h. crash without damage. That's not terribly fast: just the speed of a person walking briskly.

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Some tomatoes are sturdier. Not all tomatoes, you understand. Certainly not the ones in a bushel basket that a little boy we know stood in so he could see out the window.

But scientists have developed a thick-skinned tomato that can survive an impact the equivalent of a 5 m.p.h. crash. Not that you'd ever want to eat one that impenetrable. (Come to think of it, how could you? You'd need a 6 m.p.h. bite.)

Ideally the buyer-beware principle that guides shoppers when they select supermarket tomatoes should help them when they choose new cars. But it's hard to learn much by squeezing a bumper.

A few years ago the government said it would let Americans know whether carmakers were accurate when they claimed their bumpers would (or would not) survive a 5 m.p.h. nudge. But so far it hasn't.

That leaves a car owner with only one infallible way to test his bumper: Crash into a tomato. ----30--{et

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