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Saving Gas Via Underpowered Death Traps 585

Harperdog writes with this excerpt from a story at Miller-McCune: "Yes, it's true that the fuel-economy standards the U.S. has been using cost lives. Economist Mark Jacobson has estimated that for every mile-per-gallon we raise the standards, 149 traffic fatalities occur per year. That would mean 1,490 deaths if the standards were raised from, say, 30 miles-per-gallon to 40. But this doesn't have to be the case. It's possible, Jacobson has concluded, to increase fuel efficiency without also decreasing safety. And if government officials are smart, they'll tailor the regulations behind the new standards to do this."
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Saving Gas Via Underpowered Death Traps

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  • by Bodhammer ( 559311 ) on Friday August 05, 2011 @05:51PM (#37001002)
    "And if government officials are smart, "
    That is the biggest if in the world!
    • '72 BUICK SKYLARK!

      That's the only way to automotive safety. Hit a brick wall?

      You'll have to pay for new bricks!

      • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Friday August 05, 2011 @06:12PM (#37001254) Homepage Journal

        Not really.

        Here is a Bel Air - also know for being a 'boat' []

        • Thank you for sharing this, that is really an amazing video! It's always good to look back and remind ourselves just how far we've come, and just how thankful we should be for the advances in technology around us.


        • by devphaeton ( 695736 ) on Friday August 05, 2011 @07:11PM (#37001962)

          I was just going to post this video as well.

          I show this to people who cling to the "old cars are safer" bit. Believe me, I love, LOVE classic cars, but the plain truth is that newer cars are safer. My fave things to point out in that crash are 1) the A Pillar collapsing, 2) The dummy doesn't hit the dashboard, the dashboard and steering column fly up to hit the dummy and 3) if this car were a few years older, there wouldn't be any safety glass in it. Yes that '59 has a fully boxed frame in it, but the level of intrusion is grotesque compared to the opposing car.

          Something to note is that small cars colliding with small cars is still safer than small cars colliding with SUVs. SUVs which (interestingly) aren't always safer either. There will always be other things for small cars to crash into, such as tractor trailers, trains, buildings and bridge posts, but the more properly engineered small cars there are on the road, the general safety will increase, IMUAEO*

          *In My Unscientific Armchair Engineer Opinion

          • Agreed. I remember several years ago, some studies were done, regarding bumper heights. In these videos of crash tests, the bumpers always seem to match, or nearly match. Passenger vehicles seem to have been standardized, ages ago, regarding bumper height. But, pickups, SUV's, and other vehicles such as delivery trucks all have higher bumpers. Meaning, their bumpers ride up over your bumper, at the least slamming into your radiator and engine, or at the worst, coming directly at you, through the windsh

            • by Renraku ( 518261 ) on Saturday August 06, 2011 @12:28AM (#37004142) Homepage

              A past acquaintance from school posted pictures of this horrible wreck they were in. The car was fucking annihilated from the side. It looked like a jacked up fork lift monster truck had rolled over them. I was worried about them so I texted them to see if they were alright.

              Yep, their truck wasn't damaged much. The truck was a huge jacked up Ford. The bumper hit at about head level. The only reason BOTH people in the car they broadsided weren't decapitated was because they saw it coming and got under the car. Firefighters had to cut them out. The speed was 30mph and their side impact airbags went off.

              Then they complained about all the undercarriage damage their truck had received and the fact that their suspension was now fucked up. While they all walked away with no injuries, and the people in the car had lengthy hospital stays.

              I hope the people that got hit sued the ever-loving shit out of them for driving an unsafe vehicle.

      • There were more fatalities in 1972 and less cars, but I guess that is a cool car. [] Slashdot has been invaded by garbage or propaganda submissions. Is someone getting paid for this crap?
    • by scumdamn ( 82357 ) on Friday August 05, 2011 @06:02PM (#37001126)
      There are a lot of smart people in government and usually the fewer people involved in a decision the better the decision will be. None of us is as dumb as all of us and Congress is a committee of 528 people. I have a hard enough time getting five people to decide on anything at work much less a Byzantine committee of 538 preening attention whores who are legally allowed to take bribes to stay in power.
      • You prefer monarchy? Any way some statistics if someone wants to read them: []
        • by scumdamn ( 82357 )
          Indeed, I do not prefer monarchy. I prefer a system that works, where people can take risks and make decisions backed up by data. There are both government agencies and areas of the private sector where this occurs but we should strive ever forward and our goal should be smarter decisions balancing risk and reward with as little standing in the way of good decision making as possible.
    • Actually in this case they probably are being smart. Trying to mess with fuel use standards in the interests of safety will just result in a lot of loopholes and red tape. In this case KISS applies.

    • by beelsebob ( 529313 ) on Friday August 05, 2011 @06:23PM (#37001376)

      The biggest joke here is the assumptions that 1) small, light cars can't be safe and 2) that deaths in small light cars won't reduce as we pull big, heavy cars off the roads.

      1) Is easily disproved by looking at an extreme case or two – have a crash in a 600kg Formula 1 car, and you'll very very very likely survive – hell, have a crash at 200mph in one and you'll very very very likely walk out of it.
      2) Is easily disproved by looking at countries where small and light cars are already the norm. In the UK for example, the death rate from car accidents was 5.4 per 100,000 population, while in the US it was 14.3 per 100,000 population

      • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

        The issue with comparing the US and UK road fatalities rates are many, the average miles per year driven in the US is much higher and US drivers license tests are a joke.

        • Actually, at least one of your facts is off... US and UK stats roughly agree for average distance driven per year. Both lie at around 15000 miles per year for a middle aged driver, dropping off to 7000 for both OAPs and the very young.

          I've never seen what a US driving test covers though, so I can't comment on that.

          • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

            My mistake I thought UK driving averages were like Continental ones. You bastards must love driving around your tiny island.

            The US driving test generally covers some low speed driving and a couple street lights. Some states require a 3 point turn or parallel parking, many do not. No lessons are generally required and only a low number of practice hours with a licensed driver are required.

      • In the UK for example, the death rate from car accidents was 5.4 per 100,000 population, while in the US it was 14.3 per 100,000 population

        It's also much more difficult to actually get a driving license in the UK. The written and road tests are more difficult than in North America. If you drive in the UK it's quite evident that most of the drivers on the road seem more skilled and more 'situationally aware' than their North American counterparts.

      • by garyebickford ( 222422 ) <> on Friday August 05, 2011 @06:56PM (#37001810)

        A while back (15 years? 25 years?) when the Pinto was still a car, Ford or somebody did an experiment (IIRC it was in Popular Mechanics or some such). First they took a new Pinto and a new Fairlane and crashed them together. The Pinto was, of course, a pancake along with anyone who would have been in it. Then they took two more but filled various body cavities in the Pinto with rigid urethane foam. This time, the Pinto broke even with the Fairlane - nobody in either car would have died.

        So just basic methods _can_ have a very good effect.

        • Odd that making it more rigid helped - usually the problem is actually that the car doesn't crumple up enough, and transfers too much energy into the occupants, not that it crumpled up too much.

          • by Trongy ( 64652 )

            Typically a good design has an energy absorbing crumple zone around a rigid passenger compartment.

            "... filled various body cavities in the Pinto with rigid urethane foam."
            Without seeing the article it's not clear what they did, but urethane foam would also be an energy absorber when it is deformed. It is possible to create polyurethanes with vastly differing flexibility. When they are foamed, their properties are vastly different. Rigid polyurethane foam is the type that is used for insulation (in refrigera

    • by floop ( 11798 ) * on Friday August 05, 2011 @07:21PM (#37002108)
      The asshat [] who wrote the first study [] sited in TFA is a shill [] for ExxonMobil. The article hinges it's entire premis on the results of the second scholarly work [] which is a month old draft of an unpublished, unpeer-reviewed, unproven idea for an econometric model to analyze policy effects on on safety (translate: probably not even close to accurate). In fact, the article states as it's first line "Research confirms that increasing fuel economy standards does cost lives on the road.", as if this is proven fucking fact now. Stuff like this on slashdot makes me want to punch people in the face. Few bother to question or even read linked articles but love to go all modern jackass on meta shit that doesn't even have anything to do with the subject.
  • Wow (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 05, 2011 @05:52PM (#37001018)

    That's some of the worst crap I've ever read about saving fuel. Small diesel engines (ala VW) have the ability to get 50+mpg and still have neck-snapping torque. Underpower death-traps my hiney.

    • by Jabrwock ( 985861 ) on Friday August 05, 2011 @05:58PM (#37001084) Homepage
      As TFA states, the "deathtrap" is due to the smaller cars being smashed to a pulp when they run into a gas-guzzling behemoth. People are buying big cars not because they need them or that they like guzzling fuel. And maybe not even necessarily because the bigger cars have more "oomph". But also because "driving a tank = I'm safer, especially from other tanks on the road".
      • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

        If that were true, everyone would be buying Oldsmobiles. Those things are big, heavy tanks. No, people buy SUVs because they better allow you to see over and around other vehicles. When half the vehicles on the road are SUVs, drivers in cars are at a significant disadvantage.

        By being closer to the average height of traffic, you're not just making yourself safer. You're also making everyone around you safer because you can react more quickly to problems up ahead. In larger vehicles, you are also more ea

        • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

          Or we could just ban SUVs. That would achieve the same goal and not make me drive something that cannot corner for shit.

          • I'm as green as the next Liberal, but I've got 3 kids in child seats (we need three rows of seating) and I make lots of runs to home depot. We don't own an SUV for safety or to see "over and around" other vehicles, but because its big and can haul a lot of stuff and people. *My* car is an eco friendly car (SUV is my wife's car) because I just use it to commute, but as much as I hate monster big SUVs, sometimes they do have justifiable uses and IMHO, that's never to "be a tank".

            I'd prefer if you made my SU

      • by mindwhip ( 894744 ) on Friday August 05, 2011 @06:13PM (#37001262)

        Tanks kill people. Fact.

        You could just as easy turn the whole thing around and argue that the Overweight Gas Guzzlers are doing the damage therefore they are causing the problem.

        • Yep. The flip side is that while people think that their boats will be safer it isn't always the case. Older vehicles like those built in the 70s and earlier may survive some crashes better; however, they were not designed to allow the occupants to survive as well as newer cars.
  • I know this one!  The debate will center around whether or not it's OK for the government to intervene in private industry.  And... yawn.
    • This is wrong. So wrong.

      Government should raise taxes on gasoline so that people drive less, not force them to drive inappropriate vehicles because of mandates. The result will be much better.

      However, there is an economic cost to raising taxes, which is why they would rather raise the standards to unattainable levels, and then charge the automakers a fine for their failure to reach goals that are completely beyond reality. It is obfuscation of the goal, and results, the Politicians can say "I tried" while d

      • Higher taxes don't reduce fuel use significantly.

        Higher taxes just put more of your money in the government's pocket.

        • Higher taxes - combined with cheap and effective mass transit - does indeed reduce fuel use. Raising taxes is easy, providing the alternative to driving is the hard part.

        • by rthille ( 8526 )

          In the short term, gasoline use is inelastic, but over longer time scales, it's more elastic with purchasers of new vehicles opting for higher mileage.

        • Re:ooo ooo! (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Friday August 05, 2011 @06:48PM (#37001686)

          Wrong. Higher fuel taxes result directly in higher fuel prices. We've seen over and over again that every time fuel prices peak, people start selling their jacked-up pickup trucks and SUVs and buying smaller cars. And when fuel prices are dirt-cheap, everyone buys the biggest SUV they can find.

          Oil company profits are only one part of fuel prices; a very large chunk of the price you pay per gallon at the pump is federal and state fuel taxes. The government basically has the ability to set fuel prices, within certain margins, simply by changing the taxes.

      • Government should raise taxes on gasoline so that people drive less

        This was done where I live. It is a fine idea, but like so many fine ideas, IT DOES NOT WORK, in the real world. I own my home, so I have no intention of moving, and my work is 53Km from my home. Transit can help only slightly, and I was using it to avoid having to cross a bridge before the useless "carbon Tax" was brought in. I have spoken to many people about this tax and they all drive exactly the same amount now as they did before the

  • How come this (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bugs2squash ( 1132591 ) on Friday August 05, 2011 @05:54PM (#37001046)
    is not already costing drivers of big cars more in terms of liability premiums.
    • by Nimey ( 114278 )

      Notice how much more expensive big vehicles are?

      Notice how laws tend to favor richer people because they can buy congressweasels?

    • Re:How come this (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fortfive ( 1582005 ) on Friday August 05, 2011 @06:37PM (#37001540)

      In at least 12 states, it's because of "no-fault" auto insurance laws, which limit recovery against the accident causer.

  • 1490 is low (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 05, 2011 @05:55PM (#37001050)

    Not to be brutal, but that number's pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of all of this. It's a tiny fraction of total traffic fatalities, which means we can more than make up the difference looking for other forms of safety improvement.

  • I think a little 1 liter city car would be just fine.

    I also think if the majority in cities all had the same small car mass, then fatalities would decrease.

    Would I want to be in one for high velocity travel? Nope. But for city commutes, where slow is the norm, and small meant easier parking, might be great.

    • Watch out for those buses and delivery trucks. The ones that tend to run through red lights because they know they're going to fast to stop. Even if every other vehicle is a tiny car that it would take 2 of to hold my family that fits fine in my SUV and van, you'd still lose against mass transit vehicles in an accident. Not to mention the 18-wheel or higher semis going 65 mph down the 10-lane beside you.

      • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

        How fat are your kids?

        When I grew up my parents had two kids, themselves and at times a pet in a toyota corolla. If you cannot fit the average family in such a car they are way too fat.

    • We are the safest driving levels in a long long time. The number of fatalities per mile driven is way down from historical highs. This trend, however is slowly increasing with more "distracted drivers" out there driving while texting and shaving (yes, I saw this) while driving at 65-70 MPH (105-113 KPH). Size of cars is not saving people, better handling cars are.

  • by istartedi ( 132515 ) on Friday August 05, 2011 @05:57PM (#37001074) Journal

    The highways deliver us all kinds of goods which prolong life. They also deliver traffic fatalities.

    One is easy to measure. The other isn't.

    This tendancy to focus on the metric that's easily measured is a problem in a lot of places...

    • by Toonol ( 1057698 )
      This tendancy to focus on the metric that's easily measured is a problem in a lot of places...

      Yes, it is. A related problem is coming to define something purely in terms of what can be easily measured. For instance, a test is used to help diagnose a medical condition... over time, the condition is redefined to be 'someone who scores over this threshold on this test'. There's a lot of smart people that fall into that trap.
  • Yeah they can increase fuel economy while keeping safety but its way easier and cheaper to build a lightweight car with less safety features and better fuel economy. Especially when the MPG rating is one of the first thing you notice looking at the sticker on a car. It just makes sense for them to skimp elsewhere when it means car manufacturers can get a more fuel efficient car that'll be more attractive to consumers in todays economy.

    • Yeah they can increase fuel economy while keeping safety but its way easier and cheaper to build a lightweight car with less safety features and better fuel economy. Especially when the MPG rating is one of the first thing you notice looking at the sticker on a car. It just makes sense for them to skimp elsewhere when it means car manufacturers can get a more fuel efficient car that'll be more attractive to consumers in todays economy.

      You cannot cut the safety features of a car you plan to sell in the USA. The safety requirements for selling here are already significantly more rigorous than in Europe -which is partly why you see smaller, lighter, more fuel efficient cars there.

      • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

        Which is really sad for us. For instance the airbag is mandated instead of something like a 5 point harness. The racing harness would be cheaper lighter and probably far safer in lower speed collisions.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      Except the safety features are regulated. Basically it's a fixed variable.

  • Or... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eepok ( 545733 ) on Friday August 05, 2011 @05:59PM (#37001088) Homepage

    Economist Mark Jacobson has estimated that for every mile-per-gallon we raise the standards, 149 traffic fatalities occur per year.


    Everyone with a brain has estimated that massive, unnecessarily heavy and powerful gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs driven by distracted buffoons kill people on the road.

    Also, the report and the curiously straight-line graph comes from:

    The National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research organization, established in 1983. Our goal is to develop and promote private, free-market alternatives to government regulation and control, solving problems by relying on the strength of the competitive, entrepreneurial
    private sector.

    • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

      Underpowered economy cars were death traps even before the rise of the SUV.

      Even when they run into each other in the absence of any SUVs, they're more deadly.

      • by Nimey ( 114278 )

        Why yes! Old cars /are/ less safe than modern ones. I'd much rather have a wreck in my '05 Civic than the '89 Mustang I once had.

        Funnily enough, that crashworthiness was one reason I bought this car.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The key bit from the linked story:
    “Having separate fuel economy standards for cars and trucks encourages people to continue to use trucks as if they were cars,” he said. “They buy a truck, but they drive it as if it were a car. They don’t necessarily need the bed or the four-wheel drive.”

    It seems that the problem is not fuel efficiency standards leading to under-powered death traps. Rather, the problem is size disparity driven by misuse of large vehicles. To me, that's a differ

  • by Idbar ( 1034346 ) on Friday August 05, 2011 @06:00PM (#37001100)
    The eternal problem of correlation and causation. Where is the research that supports the hypothesis? Is it possible that the population growth is the one that is causing more cars to be sold (and economy pushes for better efficiency standards) and therefore more accidents?

    Is it also that more kids start driving at younger ages? I don't see the clear causation of fuel efficiency vs. death toll, but certainly I see a correlation.

    Is this a trick to make insurance companies charge me more for fuel efficient vehicles?
  • by rossdee ( 243626 ) on Friday August 05, 2011 @06:00PM (#37001108)

    They should ban motorbike, pushbikes and especially pedestrians.

    Did you know that the death rate for pedestrians is 100%

  • ... what is the estimated number of deaths caused by pollution in the USA alone? and worldwide?


  • No car is safe. Even a large suv can be a death trap in crashes. Small cars can be designed to be just as safe with the use of crumple zones and air bags.

    • Most large SUVs are worse than most smaller cars, have a look at the Euro NCAP data for the 2008 Ford Ranger [] compared to smaller cars of similar age its score is somewhat appalling.

    • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

      Cars that aren't designed to be "cheap" usually fare better than economy cars. It's no so much that smaller cars are smaller. They're also crap designed to make you want a larger car rather than being well designed for their purpose.

  • This can be fixed. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ichijo ( 607641 ) on Friday August 05, 2011 @06:03PM (#37001132) Journal

    Because road wear is proportional to the fourth power of the weight of the vehicle [], make the 4,000 lbs SUV owner pay 16 times as much in taxes as the 2,000 lbs small car owner. Pretty soon we'll see fewer SUVs on the roads, and all because of a fair, well-justified tax as opposed to new, arbitrary [] regulations.

  • by nwf ( 25607 ) on Friday August 05, 2011 @06:04PM (#37001142)

    Wow, a lesson in design tradeoffs. You can't have a large comfortable, safe car with several air bags, an enormous crumple zone with decent acceleration that gets 40 MPG. One of the best way to increase fuel economy is to move less car around, and, all things being equal, a heavier car is better. (That is assuming we are comparing well-designed cars.)

    Around here, we could save tons of lives by having better ROADs. Most roads here have no space berm off to the side (just trees), tons of random curves, hills, blind spots, etc. They'd save tons of lives (at huge cost, no doubt) if they straightened and flattened the roads and made them a little wider. Not to mention some type of rumble strip to warn people when they cross the center line. (They have those in California, but the dots don't work when you have to plow the roads. They can make indents, but that appears to cost too much.) My theory is that Pennsylvania just paves over whatever deer path was there without regard to any sort of engineering principles (including drainage, where the lower roads carved in a hill serve as a river during storms.)

    • Actually, you can get 40 mpg in such a car - gotta change the powerplant, and allow for a fuel that has more energy in a gallon. You can push 45 or even 50 if you get rid of the torque converter, and ideally shift it yourself, too. And, due to the low-end torque, the acceleration is surprisingly good.

      (Large diesel family cars can easily get 40+ mpg. And that's US gallons, not UK gallons.)

    • by RingDev ( 879105 )

      Interestingly, most studies show the opposite. Having tight tree lines, curves, and non-straight roads forces drivers to be more attentive and result in less crashes.

      That's not to say that everything should be a twisty-turny nightmare, but try driving in another country some time. Heck, Brazil driving is crazy. The paint on the roads is completely ignored, lanes only exist in a temporary state based on how many cars and motor cycles can squeeze side by side down the road. And for as agressive as they drive,

  • Bullshit (Score:4, Interesting)

    by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Friday August 05, 2011 @06:05PM (#37001150) Homepage Journal

    Example: []

    Newer cars are safer, and aren't 'death traps'.

    While disparity of weight has an impact, the the energy is diverted is inportant as well.
    And remember, if two car travelling at 50 MPH have a head on collision, the force on each driver is 50MPH then adjusted fro mass differences.

  • Deliberately biased summary much?

  • Most people just don't have the patience. Driving at the old 55 mph will will do it in most naturally aspirated 4-cylinder cars. Pulse and glide will do it in most cars with a manual transmission. For example, I got 46.8 mpg from San Diego to Sacramento while doing P&G and averaging 60 MPG with my 2.5 L gasoline VW Jetta, which is EPA rated at 29 mpg (2008) on the highway.

  • I would much rather be driving an overpowered death trap. It's much more fun and doesn't waste time killing you.

  • The higher risk for deaths is caused by heavier vehicles. In that case one just needs to calculate after each accident with a death or a heavy injury if it could have been prevented if everybody just drove the car they needed or if they could have reduced the speed to an level appropriate to compensate for the higher momentum (e.g. a car twice as much can drive half as fast). If these things are true, consider the death in the accident to be manslaughter by negligence, with all penal and civil consequences

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