Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Politics of Automotive Safety

Earlier this morning, as I was getting ready to leave for work, ABC's World News Overnight (or whatever it is called) was on the TV - it's basically an overnight news show that runs until 5AM, offering news and interviews.

Side Note: As near as I can tell, the interviews aren't taped but are live. Who agrees to be interviewed on a TV show at 4:30 in the morning?

One of the stories I heard in the background was about automotive bumper crash-test results. I heard the same piece on ABC Radio news later on during my commute, and the premise simply annoyed me. From Newsday:

An insurance group is again raising concerns about vehicle bumpers - those of minivans this time - contending that weak federal standards permit automakers to build cars that suffer thousands of dollars in collision damage even in impacts at walking speed.

The industry-funded research group, the , based in Arlington, Va., says the worst performer among six 2008 minivans it recently subjected to four low-speed crash tests was the Nissan Quest, with resulting damage that would have cost more than $8,000 to repair. "It's damage that consumers shouldn't have to pay for, or put up with the aggravation of having to get their vehicles repaired," institute senior vice president Joe Nolan said in a statement.

OK, so the obvious point made is that the bumper on minivans and cars are inefficient and can lead to costly repairs in minor fender-benders (the tests were conducted at speeds of 3-6 MPH).

So where does politics connect to this story? From AP:

President Bush has signed the energy bill passed yesterday by Congress, boosting auto fuel economy for the first time in 32 years. The energy bill, boosting mileage by 40 percent to 35 miles per gallon, passed the House 314-100. The Senate approved it last week.

The centerpiece of the bill remained the requirement for automakers to increase their industry wide vehicle fuel efficiency by 40 percent to an industry average of 35 mpg by 2020 compared to today's 25 mpg when including passenger cars as well as SUVs and small trucks. ...

Democrats said the fuel economy requirements — when the fleet of gas-miser vehicles are widely on the road — eventually will save motorists $700 to $1,000 a year in fuel costs.

The automakers have repeatedly fought an increase in the federal fuel standard, known as , maintaining it would limit the range of vehicles consumers will have available in showrooms and threaten auto industry jobs. Bush also has argued against an arbitrary, numerical increase in the fuel efficiency requirement, preferring instead legislation to streamline the federal requirements and market incentives to get rid of gas guzzling vehicles.

If you think stories such as the one about fender-benders being expensive are a one-off, wait until Detroit is forced to produce even lighter weight cars and SUVs.

What's worse: the so-called energy bill does nothing about increasing our supply of crude oil domestically, nothing about nuclear, and little (if any at all) on hydrogen development. Feel-good legislation, at its finest.

Even worse, wait until the death toll on the nation's highways increases.

Congress and President Bush are responsible for this foolish legislation. Sadly, our kids will be the ones driving the skateboards when they're long out of office.

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