Monday, August 21, 2006

Fuel efficient cars are not responsible for an increase in deaths

I found this post on the Autopia blog on A guy named William O'Keefe (more on him later) wrote a column attacking any proposed government controls on fuel efficiency. Now I already addressed a similar issue in an old post, and I feel no need to rebut this guy's argument whatsoever. I think that the idea of "market forces" solving all the world's problems has been thoroughly disproved to the point that anyone who still espouses that viewpoint is either selling snake oil or truly deluded.

In this case, I'd say he's trying to sell snake oil. He makes the egregious claim that CAFE restrictions lead to lighter cars which are inherently less safe. Specifically:

CAFE led to the production of smaller, lighter cars that led to increases in highway fatalities -- perhaps 2,600 a year.

John Gartner of Autopia spares me the need to point out the stupidity of that assertion.

This "analysis" negates the mitigating factors that raising of speed limits has people driving faster, and the fact that there are more vehicles on the road driving more miles.

O'Keefe also did not mention that rollovers are killing a disproportionate amount of people. Although rollover accidents made up just 3 percent of all accidents in 2002, they accounted for 33 percent of all road fatalities, according to NHTSA .

Let's see, and what kind of vehicles have a tendency to rollover? Why, yes, its the gas-guzzling SUV!

If you look at the 2006 NHTSA rollover ratings, most SUVs rated only three stars (see Escalade, Avalanche, Traiblazer, Tahoe, Escape, Expedition, Envoy, Yukon, and Santa Fe to name a few), while the Toyota's Prius, Camry and Scion all rated four stars. Also, the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid, for example got 5 star ratings in three of four NHTSA crash categories, and a four star rollover rating.

Those SUV ratings may improve as companies continue to implement electronic stability control technology, as BusinessWeek reports:

According to current safety data, over 10,000 people each year die in rollover crashes and nearly half of the fatalities involve SUVs and light trucks. This is a growing safety issue, since SUVs and light trucks are three times more likely to roll over in a single vehicle crash than a passenger car.

Good point, Mr. Gartner. So O'Keefe says that we shouldn't encourage the building of lighter cars because they lead to more deaths. Going by his assumption that we should keep the more dangerous vehicles off the road and by the fact that SUVs are inherently more dangerous than sedans, we should obviously take action to pull SUVs off the road. I can live with that.

By the way, Gartner pointed out that you might want to be dubious of any claims of impartiality on Mr. O'Keefe's part:

O'Keefe also says SUVs were only created because of a loophole in CAFE, so we should get ride of CAFE and let the market decide how much oil we suck up. Yeah, I'm sure that was the reason. But even our petroleum-powered President says our oil addiction is untenable because of the geopolitical risks to our economy.

But then again, since O'Keefe used to be chief operating officer of the American Petroleum Institute, he might be a little biased.

What did I tell you? Snake oil (or in this case, just plain oil).

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