The Safety Fallacy

  • July 8, 2024

It wasn’t the government that made cars safer to drive. It was the free market that made them less likely to crash.

Which made them safer to drive. As opposed to “safer” to crash. The latter is what we get from government, which has also made cars more likely to crash by – among other things – making them harder to see out of, which resulted from the car companies being obliged to make them safer to be inside of when you crashed them. More metal – less glass. The doors held up better to impact forces such as the car coming at you from the side you didn’t see and pulled out in front of.

Government fixed the blind spots its “safety” mandates caused by mandating blind spot alert systems and rearview camera systems, to help drivers avoid backing up over kids and others they couldn’t see behind them anymore, due to the government’s crashworthiness requirements.

But it wasn’t the government that mandated radial tires, to cite one example of a design improvement that made cars safer to drive by making them handle and brake better. Radial tires also improve the vehicle’s fuel economy and they last longer, which conserves both natural resources and people’s resources (i.e., their money, which they spend less of). The government had nothing to do with getting radial tires into circulation. It was car manufacturers such as Pontiac, which was one of the first to offer not just radial tires as factory-installed equipment but also a Radial Tuned Suspension (RTS) system designed around radial tires.

This was in the early 1970s.

By the late 1970s, radials had become the type of tires almost every car came with from the factory.

While we’re talking Pontiac – which is proper because it was Pontiac that was one of the brands that made cars that handled much better and so were much less likely to go out of control and crash, which made them safer to drive – a mention ought to be made of the anti-away bars front and rear that were part of the RTS suspension package Pontiac offered back in the ’70s. Adding the rear bar in particular greatly evened out the handling dynamics of a car so equipped by correcting for excessive oversteer, which (without the rear bar) could – and often did – result in loss of control during cornering and sudden accident-avoidance maneuvering.

The government had nothing to do with this.

And yet, anti-sway bars (front and rear) quickly became as ubiquitous as the air bags government insisted everyone buy – and never mind the fact that the car industry had developed and offered air bags as optional equipment for those who wanted them some 20 years before everyone else was essentially forced to buy them, if they wanted to buy a new car.

How about front disc and then four wheel disc brakes? The government mandated neither yet both greatly improved controllability during braking and also greatly reduced braking distances vs. the drum brakes (on all four wheels) that were common before several manufacturers began offering front disc brakes back in the late ’60s – and then four-wheel-disc brakes in the ’70s. One such was Cadillac, which made four wheel disc brakes standard equipment in the Seville back in 1977. By 1978, Pontiac was offering four wheel disc brakes as an option for the Firebird.

Today, almost every car (and truck and SUV) comes standard with four wheel disc brakes – and the government had nothing to do with it.

Interestingly, traffic fatalities declined greatly in tandem with the advent of and then ubiquity of radial tires, well-designed suspension systems and disc brakes – because the average car had become much more controllable, especially during sudden/abrupt and unanticipated maneuvering such as swerving or panic braking to avoid a child that ran in front of the car.

But then cars became more likely to hit something again – as government got involved in making them “safer.” Now they all have “advanced safety technologies” to brake and steer for the driver who can’t see what’s around him or who is distracted by all the “advanced technology.”

Cars (and trucks and SUV) also got heavier, which made them more wasteful of natural resources – and not just fuel. And they became much more expensive to insure, being more likely to crash and much more expensive to repair when they did.

That’s what all of this compliance in the name of “safety” has cost us. To say nothing of the aesthetic cost of uglified, homogenous cars that are almost all crossovers or SUVs now – and that all look pretty much the same, which is a consequence of the same factor that makes all NASCAR cars look the same. Both must conform to a template that makes it effectively impossible to make them look much different, one vs. another.

And it’s not just cars that are less likely to crash that government didn’t conjure into existence via its “safety” mandates (which ended up making them more apt to crash). Government also didn’t make cars use less gas.

That came about via such non-mandated design advances as the overdrive transmission.

These began to appear as standard equipment in Japanese cars back in the ’70s, which was part of what made them attractive to buy vs. American cars that didn’t have overdrive transmissions. Overdrive transmissions greatly reduce how fast the engine spins at highway speeds and that greatly increases fuel economy and reduces wear and tear on the engine.

The advantages of overdrive transmissions quickly became obvious and – today – every vehicle has one.

Government had nothing to do with this, either.

But the government has succeeded in making the typical new vehicle less efficient, via the various “safety” mandates that have made the average new vehicle much heavier than the vehicles that were made before the government began ordering them to be “safer.” Even with overdrive transmissions – and port fuel-injected engines – the typical new vehicle is not especially fuel-efficient and many are less efficient than the cars that were available 40 years ago, before the government began making them “safer.”

That’s why you can’t buy a 50-plus MPG new car anymore – like you used to be able to do 40 years ago –  unless you buy a hybrid car (the hybrid side compensates for the waste imposed by the weight) and it’s much harder to buy a new car that’s less likely to run into things because you didn’t see them.

But it’ll be “safer” for you if you do.

. . .

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