The IIHS filmed head-on collisions between a Honda Fit and Accord, between a Toyota Camry and a Yaris, and between a Mercedes C-class and a Smart. Each vehicle was traveling at 40 mph, which is the equivalent of smashing into a parked car at 80 mph, and the results were predictable. The videos made the national news, especially the one of the Smart Fortwo bouncing and spinning backwards.
The IIHS has an ulterior motive in conducting these crashes. It's all part of its campaign to limit how much horsepower cars can have, and to lower the national highway speed limit to 55 mph.
John McElroy is host of the TV program "Autoline Detroit" and daily web video "Autoline Daily". Every week he brings his unique insights as an auto industry insider to Autoblog readers.
First off, you have to realize that the IIHS is a lobbying group for the insurance industry. There's nothing wrong with that, but you should be aware of the source of this information, and what its motivations might be.
The conclusion the IIHS wants us to draw from these crashes is that traffic fatalities in the United States will go up as more Americans are forced to buy smaller cars due to fuel economy regulations. It equates small cars with poor safety. Remember, only two months ago, this was the same agency that reported full-size crew-cab pickup trucks are not safe enough.
The Insurance Institute claims that fatalities would go up even if everybody starts driving small cars. This, of course, ignores the fact that Western Europe has a better traffic safety record than the United States even though Europeans pretty much only drive small cars.
The Institute argues that the only way to protect the public is to limit how much horsepower cars can have and force them all to drive slower.
The IIHS says that lowering the speed limit to 55 miles an hour back in 1974 lead to lower fatalities. But it fails to point out that '74 was the year of the first oil embargo, when people had to stand in line to buy gasoline if they could get any at all, and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) dropped dramatically. Safety experts have known for decades that VMT, which is the total number of miles driven in the United States in any one year, has the biggest impact on traffic fatalities. That's why safety experts measure fatalities on a 100 million miles driven basis. It gives a clearer picture of what's happening with traffic fatalities. And on this basis the United States is currently at the lowest traffic fatality level in history.
What the IIHS also fails to point out is that when the 55 mph speed limit was repealed in 1995 and most states put it back at 70 mph, traffic fatalities also went down. A key reason is that when driving 55 mph you spend more time on the road, which leads to greater driver fatigue and distraction, which leads to accidents.
It's easy to scoff at the IIHS or to make fun of its recommendations. But this is no laughing matter. The Insurance Institute has enormous political clout. And even though its ideas are not gaining traction right now, it's not going to give up. It's going to keep beating this drum until other safety advocates start to join the cause, and they start to attract attention in Congress.
Make no mistake about it. This is a threat to all enthusiasts and the freedoms we enjoy with our mobility.
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