Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Keeping your family safe

A major reason for the popularity of SUVs, aside from the TV ads showing glow-in-the-dark suburban families climbing vertical cliff faces in Arizona and consorting merrily with the mooses, is that they have been sold as being safer than those sissy little automobiles. It is true that in a collision between an SUV and a car, the car, being lighter, gets the worst of it. Here we have an excellent example of a negative externality -- the consumer tries to buy safety for herself and her children, but makes others less safe.

It turns out that the externality extends to pedestrians. When a car strikes a pedestrian, the front bumper is at knee level or below. The pedestrian falls onto the hood, and then perhaps on the ground. The most serious injuries are likely to be to the legs -- unfortunate but not fatal. (You've all seen the Hollywood stunt people do the trick of being hit and rolling over the hood.) The higher front of the SUV strikes people higher up, and knocks them straight to the ground. Massive internal injuries, head trauma and death are likely to ensue. Another disturbingly common event consists of parents backing over their children in the driveway, because the driver's blind spot behind an SUV is much greater than it is behind a car.

But guess what? The driver and passengers aren't really safer anyway, because SUV's are prone to rolling over, and since they are classified as trucks, lack the safety features required in automobiles. Rollover crashes are the most dangerous to the occupants, who end up getting crushed.

Then of course there is that fuel comsumption issue. 95% of the people who buy these vehicles have absolutely no use for them -- the are not going to climb Pike's Peak or drive out to the Alaskan wilderness. They drive their kids to soccer practice, and go grocery shopping. Once again, the advertising man has screwed us.

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