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Safer Vehicles for People and the Planet

Description: Motor vehicles contribute to climate change and petroleum dependence. Improving their fuel economy by making them lighter need not compromise safety. The cars and trucks plying America's roads and highways generate roughly 20 percent of the nation's total emissions of carbon dioxide, a pollutant that is, of course, of increasing concern because of its influence on climate. Motor vehicles also account for most of our country's dependence on imported petroleum, the price of which has recently skyrocketed to near-record levels. So policymakers would welcome the many benefits that would accrue from lessening the amount of fuel consumed in this way. Yet lawmakers have not significantly tightened new vehicle fuel-economy standards since they were first enacted three decades ago. Since then, manufacturers have, for the most part, used advances in automotive technology, ones that could have diminished fuel consumption, to boost performance and increase vehicle weight. In addition, the growth in popularity of pickups, sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and minivans--and the large amounts of gas they typically guzzle--has resulted in the average vehicle using the same amount of fuel per mile as it did 20 years ago. One of the historical impediments to imposing tougher fuel-economy standards has been the long-standing worry that reducing the mass of a car or truck to help meet these requirements would make it more dangerous to its occupants in a crash. People often justify this concern in terms of 'simple physics', noting, for example, that, all else being equal, in a head-on collision, the lighter vehicle is the more strongly decelerated, an argument that continues to sway regulators, legislators and many in the general public. We have spent the past several years examining the research underlying this position--and some recent work challenging it. We have also conducted our own analyses and come to the conclusion ...
Date: March 1, 2008
Creator: Wenzel, Thomas P; Wenzel, Thomas P & Ross, Marc
Partner: UNT Libraries Government Documents Department

Safer Vehicles for People and the Planet: Letter to the Editor

Description: Letter to the Editors from Leonard Evans, Bloomfield Hills, MI: Single-vehicle crashes, which account for half of occupant fatalities, are not mentioned in 'Safer Vehicles for People and the Planet', by Thomas P. Wenzel and Marc Ross (March-April). Simple physics shows that in such crashes risk declines as vehicle mass increases. The authors write 'driving imported luxury cars carries extremely low risk, for reasons that are not obvious'. The reasons are obvious--the cars are purchased by low-risk drivers. If they swapped vehicles with drivers of sports cars (which have high risk), the risks would stick with the drivers, not the vehicles. The article reflects the American belief that death on our roads can be substantially reduced by making vehicles in which it is safer to crash. From 1979 through 2002, Great Britain, Canada and Australia reduced fatalities by an average of 49 percent, compared with 16 percent in the U.S. Accumulating the differences over this time shows that by merely matching the safety performance of these other countries, about 200,000 fewer Americans would have died. These trends continue. In 2006 the U.S. recorded 42,642 traffic deaths, a modest 22 percent decline from our all-time high. Sweden recorded 445, a reduction of 66 percent from their all-time high. The obsessive focus on vehicles rather than on countermeasures that scientific research shows substantially reduce risk is at the core of our dramatic safety failure. The only way to substantially reduce deaths is to reduce the risk of crashing, not to make it safer to crash. The response from Drs. Wenzel and Ross: Of course Dr. Evans is correct in stating that driver behavior influences crash risk. In our article we made clear that our estimates of risk include how well a vehicle/driver combination avoids a crash, as well as how crash-worthy a ...
Date: May 1, 2008
Creator: Wenzel, Thomas P; Wenzel, Thomas P & Ross, Marc
Partner: UNT Libraries Government Documents Department