When we saw the headlines this week revealing a new crash test dummy study that shows little bitty cars are not safe, our first thought was, “Gee, what human dummy needed a study to know that?” The Tiny, More Dangerous Cars in Your Future

When we saw the headlines this week revealing a new crash test dummy study that shows little bitty cars are not safe, our first thought was, “Gee, what human dummy needed a study to know that?”

Don’t get us wrong.  Given the choice between watching crash test dummy video and any human dummy reality shows we can name, including those mislabeled as congressional hearings on C-Span, we’ll take the crash test any day, all day.  Since crash tests are about physics and engineering, we can be sufficiently entertained while engaging in some serious continuing education.

The good people at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which did the new study and many previous ones, well understand their physics, as we all should.  Their report presents, as was intended, a good basic lesson in the physics of car crashes.  Bigger, heavier vehicles are safer; lighter, smaller vehicles are more dangerous. (See Newton, Sir Isaac; Laws of Motion)

The outcome of the test was never in question.  For it, a Honda Fit was crashed into a Honda Accord, a Smart Fortwo was crashed into a Mercedes C Class and a Toyota Yaris was crashed into a Toyota Camry, all at 40 mph, head-on.  Without going into detail, all of the minicars fared far more poorly from a safety perspective than did their larger brethren.

“’There are good reasons people buy minicars,’ says David Zuby, the Institute’s senior vice president for vehicle research.  ‘For starters, they’re affordable and they use less gas.  But the safety trade-offs are clear from the results of our new tests.’”

The Insurance Institute has an agenda.  Vehicle safety is in the direct interest of its supporting insurance companies, which must assess risk and charge appropriately, and, ultimately, of consumers, who should assess risk and act appropriately, when allowed any choice.  That changes nothing with regard to the reliability of the Institute’s testing.

It changes nothing with regard to the statistical record that government fuel efficiency standards have, since their imposition in 1975 and subsequent escalations, increased the safety hazards of the American automobile fleet:  “...the National Research Council concluded in 2002 that 1,300 to 2,600 additional crash deaths occurred in 1993 because of vehicle weight reductions to comply with federal standards...”

For complex reasons, including safety and comfort and necessity, Americans have, by and large, an almost instinctual dependence on larger vehicles, despite decades of government pressure to make other choices.

That government pressure is now accelerating, pushed by environmentalist hysteria and the worldwide instability of fuel supply, enhanced by the power that government now has over our struggling auto  makers.  There is no natural shortage of fossil fuel; there is a shortage of fossil fuel production. 

A liberal President and a liberal Congress obviously have no intention of allowing any reasonable increase in that production, nor of allowing the reasonable expansion of nuclear power, the fastest, safest, most efficient, most reliable source of  usable energy that is currently feasible on a real-world large scale.

A while back, President Obama made a really big deal about “restoring scientific integrity to government decision-making.”  But that was, of course, in a different context, not referring to energy needs or vehicle mandates.

The science of global warming is, at best, flawed, incomplete and debatable.  The basic laws of physics are diamond-etched into titanium, so to speak.  No political policy can change them.

As the Insurance Institute closed its crash test dummy report, “There’s no getting around the laws of the physical universe.”  You should remember those laws, even as your government ignores them and increasingly forces you into smaller, lighter, more dangerous vehicles.

April 16, 2009
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