March 17, 2007

Small issue, no action needed

Modern cars are much safer in collisions for their occupants than older models, but their extra weight and height mean that they are more likely to kill people in other cars, reports Ben Webster in The Times.

But then the piece starts to go off the rails.
Modern cars have much better safety features, such as multiple air bags, side-impact protection and stronger frames. But these have added weight, the study says, so that [my emphasis] the average new car is 20 per cent heavier than one built a decade ago.
But then we read that -
Manufacturers have also increased the size of models to satisfy consumer demand for roomier cars with higher performance. Greater acceleration and higher top speed require larger, heavier engines.

For example, the new VW Beetle weighs 1.6 tonnes, double the weight of the rear-engined versions. The modern VW Golf is half a tonne heavier than the 1976 original, 2ft longer and 5in taller. It has a top speed of 146mph compared with 113mph for the Mark 1.
So what is Webster saying here? That the average car is 20% heavier because of safety features, and heavier still because it's bigger and more powerful? I don't think so. Maybe EU safety bureaucrats are less to blame than Richard North suggests.

The Transport Research Laboratory actually spent our money to show that "drivers of the smallest cars ... are four times as likely to be killed in collisions with other cars as drivers of the largest cars" and "drivers hit by the largest cars are twice as likely to die as those hit by the smallest". The conclusions are self-evident, while the numbers must be spurious.

Interest groups have - of course - called for more regulation -
Road safety groups called on the car industry yesterday to add an extra crash test to measure the risk that cars pose to occupants of other cars. The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety said: “There is a good case for an extra test which will show prospective buyers how much damage a car will do to other cars.”
Just what this "good case" is is not explained.

In any case, how serious is the problem?
In 1998, 1,696 car occupants were killed, compared with 1,675 in 2005, a fall of only 1.2 per cent. Over the same period, the annual total for all road deaths fell by 6.4 per cent.
With more and more vehicles on the road, that doesn't look like a high priority issue to me.

In any event, the price mechanism is doing its work.
People carriers and 4x4s, the two largest categories, accounted for only 5.6 per cent of new car sales in 1996 but 12.5 per cent in 2005. Over the same period, small cars also increased their market share, from 27.9 per cent to 31.1 per cent.
The Times story includes some interesting facts, but is biased in favour of action. Small issue, no action needed, but that doesn't make a good story.

1 comment:

Eric Blair said...

It is good to see that road deaths have fallen. Could that be because of speed cameras ?