Wednesday, May 20, 2009

New conservative frenzy - CAFE standards cause car deaths

So I've been reading across multiple "news" websites and blogs recently that, OMG, Obama's new CAFE standards are going to cause more highway fatalities. The argument goes that in order to make their cars more efficient, car companies are simply going to make them smaller and lighter, and therefore less safe. They base this off of studies done back in the 80's when CAFE standards were really kicking in, claiming that highway deaths would totally rise if it happened.

Well guess what? Highway deaths have been consistently falling since CAFE standards were first introduced. And let's really deconstruct this argument, anyway.

People typically point to small cars being made with plastic bumpers and materials that apparently "aren't as strong" as steel and other heavier metals used in older cars. Newsflash - these composite plastics being used in new cars are not only lighter, they're safer. Having a rigid behemoth doesn't make you more safe during a car crash. These plastics and newer, lighter metals are designed to keep you safer during a car crash. The idea is that when you get into a collision, your car crumples up. This crumpling effect absorbs most of the force so that the cabin (where the driver and passengers are sitting) get less of the shock. Look to the picture above, that's a pretty wicked crash. But notice that the crumpling effect has absorbed nearly all of the force in the hood - the cabin is unaffected. So right on its head, lighter does not automatically mean less safe. On the contrary, lighter plastics have meant MORE safe.

Second, let's assume that cars on average will become lighter. This also doesn't automatically mean less safe. So, two cars get into a head-on collision. Let's go back to the old physics class, force = mass x acceleration. When that other, new lighter car hits you...your car is hit with less force. OMG disaster right? Now this is no scientific test or anything, but come on.

These arbitrary claims that highway fatalities will increase are just as bogus now as they were 20 years ago. As shown, those claims 20 years ago have been demonstrably false - cars have gotten WAY safer since then. Of course, CAFE standards has nothing to do with safety standards, but let's not forget that safety standards will be just the same now as they were before. There's NO actual evidence that safety standards will be decreasing in the near future, so let's lay this latest concoction to rest.