What's REALLY contradictory to saving lives AND saving gas

Cecil made a lot of good points in his reply on auto efficiency standards and car safety, but in his conclusion “saving lives and saving gas to an extent are contradictory goals” he dodges the real point. We could effectively save lives AND gas by 1) encouraging smaller cars/banning SUV’s; 2) lowering the speed limit and enforcing it; and 3) providing public transit, the epitome of both efficiency and safety. It’s not safety that’s competing with auto efficiency; it’s that our society has collectively decided that convenience, speed, and machismo are more important than both safety and energy efficiency.

Welcome to the SDMB, sherrribeth.

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Welcome, sherribeth. I couldn’t agree with you more. Actually, I think that Cecil’s summarizing point contradicts some of the information provided in his post. (If mid-size cars provide as much protection for their occupants without being such a risk to other cars. So why not ban those SUVs?)

This was in Cecil’s comments:

This comment in the report was rather bizarre. The added convenience of being able to make right turns on red or to drive faster was considered an “acceptable tradeoff for increased risk” by whom??? Did I miss the chance to vote on this? How many maimed or dead people would make it an unacceptable tradeoff?

Why are people in such a damned rush? If you go ten miles an hour faster for an hour, how much time do you save? What are you going to do with that extra time? Was it worth it? What’s the point?

Try driving the Natchez Trace or the Blue Ridge Parkway at their lowered speed limit sometime. It is actually relaxing – not frustrating.

Another factor to be considered is accident avoidance. I would bet small cars are more nimble than SUVs and thus have a better chance of simply swerving out of the way in the first place.

Presumably it was your state legislature that considered higher speed limits an “acceptable tradeoff for increased risk.” So no, you wouldn’t personally have had a chance to vote on it, but you have had a chance to make your displeasure known at the ballot box. I’m puzzled why you might think this bizarre.

Good question, and one that might be well-suited for GQ (if you’re looking for an actual answer in this case) of Great Debates (if you want to propose a different metric).

If you’re intending this as a rhetorical question (with an answer of “just one, of course”), then that’s not reasonable. Policy cost/benefit analysis is conducted all the time when the economic cost to eliminate all potential deaths is astronomical. For example: automobile air pollution. We could eliminate many potential deaths from air pollution by decreasing automotive emissions. This could be done by adding more expensive aftertreatment to cars and/or reformulating fuel. How much more are you willing to spend to decrease deaths from air pollution? A dollar more per gallon? Two? Three? $1,000 more per car? Five thousand? Ten? Where is it an unacceptable tradeoff?

Same with speed limits. How slow a speed limit is acceptable? 50mph? 35? 20? Five mph? The surest way to drive traffic deaths down is to set the speed limit at zero mph and effectively ban automobiles entirely. Is this reasonable?

A few years ago, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona all raised their speed limits. Judging by the “letters to the Editor” in the newspapers, far more people approved than disapproved. In any event, no legislator has seriously proposed raising the limits since then.

As far as I know, right-turn-on-red has always been legal in NM and TX. (I don’t know about AZ.) I have not heard of anyone lobbying to change it.

Zero mph in fact is where the car is taking us, as not only petroleum not last through the century, but the fossil fuel, as opposed to solar, culture is dismantling evolution.

A problem with these cost/benefit analyses is that they leave out or, using economic jargon, “externalize” factors according to economic interests–meaning firm or corporation as opposed to society or planetary interests–as allowed by political expediency and facilitated successful propagandizing or advertising.

Like trying to put a value on a sunset or rain forest, how do you measure the value of the lives lost? The music of the London Symphony’s french horn player Dennis Brain, for example, who was killed in his youth by a car accident and millions of other people similarly lost? These are costs absorbed by individual families and communities which never show up in these analyses. How do we measure the value of the species lost and desertification due to global warming brought by the petroleum (as opposed to solar) culture, the SUV being merely a manifestation of its ugliest, most selfish aspect? Of the paved-over and suburbanized land and obliterated communities? Of lost farmland and disappearing locally-based cultures and knowledge, which have been devalued by petroleum but are essential to longterm species survival? Of increasing entropy and destruction of the complex evolutionary pathways and relationships, biological and social, of life. Of the inevitable population crash–a basic characteristic of natural selection and evolution which religious, market and other kinds of fundamentalists want to deny–when the petroleum output starts decreasing, perhaps beginning at the end of this decade?

Car weight, speed limits and right turns are merely the tip of the iceberg–and besides being symptomatic of it–have as much to do with problem as shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic. The problem is a systemic one, which can’t be understood through dollar-defined cost-benefit analysis. It is not the weight of the car which much be changed, but to get rid of it before it gets rid of us.

You can’t ask about just one side of the issue. What about positive externalities? How much has the car given those families? How much convenience, time saved, ability to see the natural wonders they never could have gotten to before, freedom to choose jobs, homes, and cities?

You can list hundreds of these questions on either side. Nobody in the world can accurately weigh them all and put a total to the answer.

In practical terms, however, people have made the unconscious qualitative, if not quantitative, calculation. Cars are wonderful. They buy cars before they buy other supposed essentials like bathtubs. People refuse to give up their cars even under bankruptcy conditions. They will give up increasing amounts of their income to buy the cars and pay for gas and upkeep and associated costs like insurance and parking and spinning rims.

If you were king doesn’t cut it as a policy. No conceivable totalitarian solution to getting rid of cars is in the least feasible. And that’s in addition to the simple fact that getting rid of gasoline will mean nothing to the automobile in the long run. Gasoline-powered cars are already a dying breed, but they will be succeeded by more cars that use other sources of energy. This is a guarantee.

So what about your negative externalities? Should they be addressed? It would be nice, but reality dictates that any solutions will be piecemeal and strained. Will people give up cars? Not a chance. And since any rational human being will understand that the world is better today than 100 years ago to a degree that beggars comprehension, and that much of this advance has been due to the advent of the automobile culture, it isn’t clear that cars should be given up. The positives outweigh the negatives.

I’m always amused when people think they can argue against the existence of cars. Come live in the world outside the urban areas for once. How can you do without a car when you live three hours from your job? Saying ‘mass transit’ is going to make you look very stupid indeed.

It is flawed logic to say that because we cannot live without something that it will necessarily continue to exist. Our current car-dependent pattern of settlement is merely a half century old and the petroleum it is based upon is already half consumed in the face of growing demands upon it throughout the world.

The other side of your question thus is might be can a society exist very long when people must be moved around by diminishing reserves of fossil fuels, purchased on credit against growing national and personal debt, to get to their jobs?

Furthermore, how can a society persist when the food sustaining it requires 20 times as much fossil fuel energy to grow, transport and cook than the solar energy contained in it (compared to the previous 16,000 years in which food yielded seven times as much solar energy as human and animal energy invested)? How can we continue to sustain ourselves with lowering aquifers? What will humans do when the last 10% of remaining fish are gone from the seas? Etc.

The Easter Islanders must have used this same logic when they were cutting down the trees on their Pacific Island: our way of life requires cutting the trees, thus we must continue doing so. But where are they now? Any archaeologist can tell you that the earth is scattered with the bones of civilizations that held similar conceits. There is nothing to indicate that modern society is an exception, and given that centralization makes a society more prone to systemic collapse, since its parts are integrally dependent upon each other, our globally centralized society makes planetary collapse all the more likely.

Regarding the other statement by a previous respondent that we will continue to have cars, even if they do not run on petroleum, this is the wet dream of our society: to keep doing things merely by replacing petroleum with some other form of energy, such as hydrogen (which is a conduit of energy, not an energy source). There is nothing that can concentrate energy in the quantity, storability and portability of petroleum. Even biofuels, if we could mobilize sufficient land and water to grow the corn or other plants, require more petroleum energy to grow, transport and process then the solar energy yielded from it. Even if its proponents are right in saying there is currently a slim positive margin, which I doubt once you factor in the externalities, what happens when all the agricultural and transportation energy costs must be deducted from the biofuels before they are put into the automobiles? The only thing making them seem to be feasible now is the immense monetary subsidies given from our taxes to the giant corporations producing them. Subsidies, however, can’t suspend the laws of thermodynamics no more than they can suspend the laws of gravity, whatever tricks economists may do with their ledger books.

Just as surely as other civilizations have changed (or died), so will ours. In this century no doubt. People may continue to live in the countryside, indeed the cities will no longer support them, but they are going to be working there as well and not making long commutes every day.

In all actuality, it is a matter of economic choice. If you want to risk your life and those around you, it is your prerogative to purchase whatever size vehicle you wish.

I do not know many people who if they can afford a full size car or an SUV, do not have at least one. Many of us need to carry items or people that is just not feasible in a small car. I do not feel guilty that I have never owned a small car or will ever do so.

Certain laws of physics cannot be denied. There is a certain about of weight determined by the structure that needs to be moved. If you make the car so much lighter to achieve some mythical mpg goal, there will be a Peterbuilt that will illustrate the fallacy of such a path.

For those of us old enough to remember, the prediction was that by the year 2000 we were to be out of oil. Having been in that business, there are reserves that will last us hundreds of years. Just that there are laws restricting its location and development. Could you imagine the impact if it became known on the worlds markets that the US was going to develop its know resources? The price per barrel would plummet to $8 a barrel and the arabs would no longer be an important factor in the worlds politics. The economy would skyrocket with the investment of income. People would be happy once again. And a new paper dragon would have to be created.

Petroleum is the organic fuel of the future.

But we are free to unbalance the world with our use of corn and food products to make fuel. The use of agricultural will never be economically feasible. I am amazed for a 6-8% discount at the pump, many forget about the 30% loss of energy per gallon. I know no one who has ever used more than one tankful of an ethanol blend due to the high consumption.

But coming back from Central American, I have seen the initial effects that we are willing to exorcise over other countries just to burn food.

And by the way, the rain forests are doing just fine.

About 280 billion vehicle miles were traveled on rural interstates in 2002 (the last year for which my source gives data].

Assuming one human occupant per vehicle, about 1.35 billion additional man hours will be spent on rural interstates if the speed limit is 55 vs. 75 mph. Or about 2,214 lifetimes if we assume an average lifespan of 70 years. Rural interstate vehicle occupancy certainly averages more than 1 OPV, though, but lets stick with that for now.

Thus it needs to be shown that lowering the speed limit saves more than the 2000 plus lives it will waste annually…actually double that if we assume the victims average age 35 rather than being newborns.

NHTSA has a quieriable database here. Using that I discovered that there were about 2,600 fatal crashes in 2002 on interstates with speed limits of either 70 or 75 mph.

Some advocates of 55 mph speed limits claim lives will be saved. Note that this is widely disputed. Even if true, though, there are no claims that the carnage will be reduced by 85%, which is, at a minimum, what it would take to replace the lifetimes wasted in extra driving time.