14 April 2009

Death by Car

I'm so saddened by of all the bad news about people getting killed in car-related accidents lately. First there was the story of young Adrianna getting hit and killed by a car next to USC ... the driver then actually pulled over so that the passenger could get out and push her friend Marcus off the hood. (Marcus, thankfully, is alive.) Then there was the story of Los Angeles Angel Nick Adenhart, who was killed by a drunk driver just a few hours after pitching the best baseball game of his very young life. Not to mention we've had at least two notable car chases here in Southern California in the past couple of weeks. (Apparently this is a regular occurance here.)

Naturally I'm feeling a little bit skittish around cars these days. Not having one is great for a number of reasons but it also means I have no control over the car I'm riding in, although I have definitely been a much more alert passenger recently.

So imagine my surprise when I just read this headline on the NYTimes.com: Study Says Small-Car Buyers Sacrifice Safety for Economy.

from left to right: Smart ForTwo, Toyota Yaris, and Honda Fit. Image courtesy of the NYTimes; please don't sue me, I gave you credit...

My immediate reaction to this was perhaps a little unconventional; "clearly," I thought, "this is a ploy by other car companies to prove that small cars aren't meant for American roads." THEN I kept reading the article, at which point I found out that the head-on crash tests were actually conducted at 80 miles an hour - 40 miles per hour per car involved in the crash. Well, duh! If you're crashing head-on with someone at 80 miles an hour, you're going to be quite lucky to survive in any situation. The article says that the midsize cars into which the small cars crashed "fared well or acceptably". That, I think, is even more remarkable. How much do these midsize cars weigh? How over-engineered are they so that they can absorb that sort of crash?

And ultimately my entire thought process has led me to this: the idea that the time of big, heavy and totally unnecessary oversized cars is over. We tried it, folks, and it just doesn't work. Sure, some people need those giant Ford F150s for hauling stuff to and from their farms; but when was the last time you saw a farmer going 90 miles an hour down the highway? I suppose some people, like the Duggars in Arkansas, could justify the use of a couple of big Expeditions, but even they use a recycled church bus or something. What I'm trying to say, generally, is that I think we pushed automobile technology to the limit and now it's time for us to pull them back to a place that is reasonable, fuel-efficient, and safe.

Case in point: motor vehicle collisions are one of the top ten leading preventable causes of death in the United States. This doesn't even occur as one of the top ten worldwide causes of death, however - the rest of the world is still concerned with things like malnutrition.

So I guess my point is, go ahead and read the article about the poorly performing small cars. But before you automatically jump to the conclusion "well I guess I'd better get a bigger car since it's safer" maybe you should pause, and instead think to yourself "maybe I ought to try to be a better driver and make sure I'm never in a situation where I'm going 40 miles an hour head on into another vehicle." Because the car companies have proved that they are utterly incompetent and unable to adjust the needs of a changing economy quickly enough to put more small cars on the road. Until that time, it's everyone for themselves, and young people are losing their lives.

Ergo ... get off the phone, stop texting, drinking, speeding, putting on makeup, playing with your dog, etc. Because if you hurt somebody with your car, you may as well have shot them with a gun - and you deserve whatever punishment you get.

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