The Other Side of Fuel Efficiency

April 15, 2012

I’d like to add a different “take” on President Obama’s push for smaller, lighter cars (which get better gas mileage), a move that began during the Carter administration with the Federal imposition of so-called CAFE standards (having to do with the average MPG of a manufacturer’s fleet of cars).  What we’ve gotten is lighter, more fuel-efficient, and less crash-worthy cars.  And that is not an unmixed blessing.

I grew up in the heyday of muscle cars – big, brawny Detroit iron that had lots of power, and lots of solid crash-worthiness.  The ’66 Impala I learned to drive on got an honest 10 MPG (at least the way I drove it) – which meant I got 175 miles to a tank.  But the damned thing was built like a tank.  I still like the older, more powerful cars, and I especially like those that were built solid.

Fast-forward a few decades.  While I learned to drive in a solidly-built Impala, my son John David learned to drive in the family Taurus wagon – which got more than twice the MPG than did my old Impala.  And frankly, it looked sturdy enough.  However, eight days after John David got his license, on the way to early band practice in the iffy light of pre-dawn, he had a head-on with a tree (he lost control – it was a one-car accident, clearly his fault) at around 55 mpg.  If he’d been in that Impala, he and the boy with him would have survived.  However, the Taurus folded up like cheap tin foil, the engine came back into the cockpit, and both boys were crushed, dying instantly.

They died in what would otherwise have been a survivable crash because the car was not built to survive a crash – because that would have made it heavier, and less gas-efficient.  That, my friends, is the price we pay for “gas economy.”  People die. Some of them still just children, people like John David and his friend Steven, who were just starting out in life, a life cut short forever in the name of better CAFE standards and higher fuel efficiency.

The cars made today are far LESS crash-worthy than those made in the 90s, and the cars Obama wants to be made are even less crash-worthy than what’s being built today.  So as you consider the relative value of even better fuel efficiency, consider also the human cost.  Consider John David Barnett, who would be 29 years old today if the car I’d let him drive had been built the way cars were built when I was his age.

There are always trade-offs – is the trade-off Obama’s asking of us worth the human cost?  Not in my book.

Ned Barnett – Nevada Conservative


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