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What The Media Tell Americans About Free Enterprise

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June 1998


Whatever the Results, Bash SUVs

Recent government crash tests showed that the alleged safety problems with sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) may have been exaggerated. For the tests, a pickup truck, a minivan, an SUV, and a large sedan each crashed into the side of a Honda Accord.

As reporter Warren Brown noted in the June 3 Washington Post, the tests "indicated that the injury rate for occupants of a mid-size car was not significantly different whether a light truck - sport-utility vehicle, pickup truck or minivan - or a large sedan crashed into it. But the tests did show that dummies in the light trucks and the large car fared better than the dummies in the smaller mid-size car, reflecting real-world experience."

According to USA Today's Jayne O'Donnell and James R. Healy, "All the vehicles caused serious chest injuries to the Accord driver, but none caused the severe or critical injuries most likely to be life-threatening."

Most of their network counterparts didn't see it this way, though. Only NBC Nightly News reported the story in the same terms as the Post and USA Today did. NBC's Robert Hager reported that "when the dust settles, and the glass and metal too, [it's] hard to prove what the government says statistics show - that when a big pickup, sport utility, or van hits a car it's much more dangerous than getting hit by a car."

But ABC, CBS, and CNN took the tests as another opportunity to bash SUVs. (For a look at previous anti-SUV reporting, see the February 1998 MediaNomics.)

According to ABC correspondent Lisa Stark, on the June 2 World News Tonight, "The government crash test confirmed what many drivers have long suspected: when hit from the side, cars are no match for sport-utility vehicles." Dan Rather, on that night's CBS Evening News, called the tests "new evidence of how dangerous SUVs can be." And CNN's Joie Chen, on The World Today, ominously warned that "new government crash test results confirm what many had already feared: passengers in cars risk injury or death when they are hit on the side by light trucks and sport-utility vehicles."

None of these networks noted the obvious: that being on the receiving end of a side-impact crash is just not a good place to be, whether one is hit by a car or an SUV. And the networks are still omitting from their stories the argument that the bigger safety problem on the road is unsafe small cars, not SUVs or light trucks, and that federal fuel-economy standards exacerbate this problem by forcing smaller cars onto the market.

Apparently, the networks will be satisfied only when those in SUVs and light trucks die in the same numbers as those in small cars, even in side-impact crashes.

Rich Noyes


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