Safety in the Modern Age

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Fuel economy standards are rapidly increasing in the United States. As a result we have to alter the composition of our vehicles toward smaller and lighter bodies. The link between these compositional changes and safety has the potential to dramatically alter the costs of saving gasoline. A new empirical model of accident fatality risks combined with vehicle fleets and fuel economy standards are showing some very interesting results.

According to The Journal of American Economic Review this issue is particularly important given the risks that driving imposes on life. More than 37,000 fatalities were recorded in US automobile accidents in 2008. Proportional increases or decreases in this rate, even relatively small in magnitude, have substantial implications for the cost of gasoline savings.

Accident counts come from the Fatal Accident Reporting System (FARS), which comprehensively records each fatal automobile accident in the United States. More than 4,000 pedestrians a year die in the U.S. after being hit by a car. Nearly 70,000 were injured in motor-vehicle accidents in 2011, according to government data.

The study revealed an increase of 150 fatalities per year as predicted from a 0.1 mile-per-gallon (MPG) increase in fuel economy via compositional changes. It is believed that much of the danger lies within large vehicles, whose drivers still remain on the road. The effect is particularly strong for single-car accidents, which represent nearly two-thirds of fatalities in the data.

To combat the results of this study some companies such as Ford have come up with new ways to improve safety. In the U.S., Ford Motor Co. was the first to offer a bag-in-belt technology on 2011 Explorers. Other companies have jumped on this bandwagon after seeing an increased demand for safety from consumers.

For example, German luxury brand BMW is launching a “dynamic-spotlight” technology that uses an infrared cameras mounted behind the grille to see down the road ahead. Software can pick out the outline of a person (or animal) and signal the car’s headlights to illuminate them. This in turn would help prevent a collision.

Car companies are switching over to smaller and lighter vehicles in order to gain a high MPG rating, but safety is being compromised as a result. To combat these compositional changes, new safety measures are being implemented. The next time you are thinking of purchasing a new vehicle compare its safety features with other manufacturers.

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