- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 4, 2001

Nowhere are the misplaced priorities of Washington and the Washington establishment more in evidence than in the reportage and commentary surrounding the Environmental Protection Agency's annual release of its statistics listing the most and least fuel-efficient vehicles sold in America.

According to the latest tally of miles-per-gallon, overall fuel economy is at a 20-year low which is viewed with great alarm in certain quarters, where saving gas is apparently more important than saving lives. For no matter how it's gussied up, extracting maximum mileage usually entails shedding weight which necessarily makes a given vehicle less safe. This is why cars built since the advent of government-mandated "downsizing" via Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requirements have been generally less safe than the cars of the pre-downsizing era. But recently, size and mass have been increasing as customers demand more substantial vehicles. The surging popularity of sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) is a case in point.

According to the most recently available data, the weight of cars and light trucks (the category which includes most SUVs) increased 10 percent and 16 percent, respectively, since 1981. Performance has also improved substantially. Zero to 60 times now average 10.3 seconds down from 14.4 seconds in 1981. Average 0-to-60 acceleration for light trucks has moved from 14.6 seconds to 11.0 seconds.

"Consumers want cars that have certain performance features," Gloria Bergquist, spokeswoman of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, told the Associated Press. "We sell cars that get 40 miles per gallon, but fewer than 2 percent of consumers buy them."

Dan Becker of the leftist Sierra Club's "global warming program" attributes this fact not to consumer choice but rather to the hypnotic effect of auto industry advertising propaganda which suspends rational judgment and draws people to those bad old SUVs instead of "socially responsible" subcompacts. The automakers "have found that the American public will buy a large pile of steel with plush seats and cup holders, despite the fact that they will guzzle gas, pollute the air and roll over and kill people," he told the Associated Press.

Mr. Becker neglects to point out, though, that SUVs also offer room for five or six passengers, plus their gear as well as superior impact protection in almost all types of accidents. Women in particular esteem SUVs because of the safety advantage they confer and are willing to suffer a higher fuel bill in exchange.

How terribly "irresponsible" of them. The incoming Bush administration will likely prefer saving lives to saving gas, too. Too bad there are still those in government, the media and other redoubts of influence that don't mind subjecting ordinary people to greater risk if it will advance their "noble" public-policy agenda.


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