More Environmental Tradeoffs
The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards will rise from 27.5 mpg to 35 mpg from now until 2020. That should decrease any pollutant associated with burning fossils fuels. All good, right? Wrong.
There is a trade off in safety. You are much more likely to die in a small car. The WSJ Online reports on a recent Insurance Insititute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study that shows small cars like the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris fair very poorly in two-car frontal offset crash tests against the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. This is against mid-sized cars from the same manufacturer, so a reasonable comparison.
The higher-level statistics are a bit frightening. According to the same IIHS study, the death rate for mini cars is twice as high in multi-vehicle collisions as that for very large cars. Even in single car crashes and compared to a mid-sized car, the death rate is 17% higher.
This NHTSA study presents a model of vehicle weight and safety. For every 100 lbs you reduce the weight of a light car, you increase the death reate by 5.63%. That means the reduction of weight targeted at improved mileage accounted for 13,608 additional fatalities from 1996 to 1999 in the light car class. Across the light car, heavier car, and light truck classes, the increase was 39,197 fatalities.
A USA Today analysis of crash data since CAFE went into effect estimates that for every mile per gallon improvement, you get an extra 7,700 fatalities (sorry, there doesn’t seem to be an original copy of the article online: James R. Healey, “Death by the Gallon,” USA Today, July 2, 1999).
According to this NHTSA data, there were 29,039 automobile fatilities for men in 2007. According to this CDC fact sheet, 322,841 men died from heart disease in 2007. So you should still devote more effort to your cardiac-related lifestyle. But I don’t know of any lifestyle interventions that will cut your heart attack risk by 50% (other than stopping smoking).
The Tesla Model S will supposedly weigh 3825lbs with the largest battery pack. That’s a little heavier than the Toyota Camry’s 3483lbs. Whew! At least there may be a potentially safe and efficient alternative.