Though increasingly popular among car buyers, sport-utility
vehicles (SUVs) are decidedly unpopular among reporters. When they
aren’t blaming SUVs for polluting the environment, reporters attack
SUVs for being safety hazards for other drivers. But the federal
Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards — which force car
drivers into unsafe smaller cars or encourage them to buy bigger
SUVs or pickup trucks (which have lower CAFE standards) — are never
taken to task.
This month’s assault on SUVs was prompted by studies from
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the federal government
which showed that in crashes between SUVs and cars, those in cars
were much more likely to die than those in SUVs. For the networks,
the problem was with the SUVs, not the cars.
"If you’re in an SUV, or one hits your car, look out," warned
NBC’s Tom Brokaw on the February 18 Nightly News. In the
story which followed, correspondent Robert Hager told viewers that
"big sport-utility vehicles, pick-ups, and vans" pose "a growing
threat to safety on the highways, according to a new study from the
He pointed out that "If you’re driving a car hit from the side by
a sport-utility vehicle, you’re 30 times more likely to be killed
than the driver of the sport-utility vehicle" and said that "with
more than 25 million of these vehicles on the road today, and their
popularity continuing to grow, it’s a problem safety officials say
must be confronted to save lives."
According to ABC’s Kevin Newman, on the February 10 Good
Morning America, "A new study is adding to the debate over the
dangers of sport-utility vehicles and light trucks. According to the
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, when a car and a light truck
collide, passengers in the car are four times more likely to die
than those in the light truck."
NBC’s Matt Lauer, on the that morning’s Today, reported
that "sport-utility vehicles are an increasingly popular choice for
American drivers, but...there are troubling new concerns about their
threat to other drivers."
Bob Orr, on the February 9 CBS Evening News, suggested
that "the new findings could help trigger higher insurance costs.
With many rates now under review, the report is strong ammunition
for those who claim SUV and pickup owners are not paying their fair
share of the risk."
Only Brokaw, on the February 9 Nightly News, pointed out
that the problem might be with the smaller cars, and not the SUVs.
"Insurers say design changes, especially to strengthen the size of
cars, are now needed." But even he did not mention that federal
fuel-efficiency regulations, by mandating smaller cars, stack the
deck against car drivers.
According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Environmental
Briefing Book (located on the web at www.cei.org), "CAFE has a
lethal effect on auto safety. Decades of research have made it clear
that large cars are more crashworthy than similarly equipped small
cars in all collision modes. CAFE, however, restricts large-car
availability. According to a peer-reviewed Harvard-Brookings study,
CAFE is responsible for a 500 pound downsizing of new cars, which
translates into 2,200 to 3,900 additional traffic deaths per model
The institute also notes that the alleged benefit of federal
fuel-efficiency standards may be illusory, arguing that "the
correlation between fuel economy and vehicle emissions is far less
direct than it appears to be. NOx (nitrogen oxide) emissions, for
example, may actually increase when fuel efficiency rises."
Reporting about auto safety without mentioning CAFE standards is
a bit like running a story about the Titanic without bringing up the