December 27, 2003

High and Mighty

I have Keith Bradsher's book about SUVs in the to-be-read pile. But meanwhile Hal Varian writes about the costs of SUVs:

Economic Scene: The True Costs of S.U.V.s: ...Michelle White, an economist at the University of California, San Diego, estimates that for each fatality that light-truck drivers avoid for themselves and their passengers, they cause four fatalities involving car occupants, pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists. "Safety gains for those driving light trucks," Ms. White said, "come at an extremely high cost to others." Being larger than ordinary vehicles, S.U.V.'s and light trucks cause more damage to upper bodies and heads in collisions. Furthermore, their bumpers do not always align with automobile bumpers, and their body structure is stiffer, transferring more force to other vehicles during impact...

Posted by DeLong at December 27, 2003 04:27 PM | TrackBack

Comments

If this is so, and I believe it, then this should result in larger (than with a standard auto) personal injury awards, which should reflect larger (than with standard auto) insurance losses.
Yet I don't think that Insurance companiies are surcharging SUV-owner liability policies.

Why not?

Posted by: barry on December 27, 2003 05:41 PM

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Is this supposed to be a DISCOVERY? I know of not a single person who has an SUV who has not EXPLICITLY considered that their SUV will give them a superior chance of survival in the event of a crash with an average size vehicle.

Is ANYONE in doubt about the morals of modern America? Really?

Posted by: richard on December 27, 2003 05:53 PM

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This is not really news--all that's "new" is that the media is actually commenting on it. Besides, the same issue has existed for years with commercial trucks. I remember sitting in rush hour traffic on the LIE, staring at the vestigal bumper of the truck in front of me and realized that if I ran into the back of the truck its bumper (what there was of it) was at just the right height to take my head off. But no one's ever worked on legislation to make trucks become "safer" for passenger vehicles. All the idiot SUV people are doing is assuming the same superiority for themselves--you got the money someone's got the time or the thing. Yeah, I'd like to see the greater potential damage reflected in insurance premiums and personal injury and wrongful death awards--but these days the car insurance people would rather base your premium partly on your credit rating.

Posted by: sehogg on December 27, 2003 06:03 PM

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This is not really news--all that's "new" is that the media is actually commenting on it. Besides, the same issue has existed for years with commercial trucks. I remember sitting in rush hour traffic on the LIE, staring at the vestigal bumper of the truck in front of me and realized that if I ran into the back of the truck its bumper (what there was of it) was at just the right height to take my head off. But no one's ever worked on legislation to make trucks become "safer" for passenger vehicles. All the idiot SUV people are doing is assuming the same superiority for themselves--you got the money someone's got the time or the thing. Yeah, I'd like to see the greater potential damage reflected in insurance premiums and personal injury and wrongful death awards--but these days the car insurance people would rather base your premium partly on your credit rating.

Posted by: sehogg on December 27, 2003 06:05 PM

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I explicitly know people who bought SUVs because they wanted the extra cargo and passenger capacity not because they wanted to kill other people. For the record I have never owned an SUV, I have always driven fuel efficient compacts even though I could afford an SUV if I wanted one. I donít need the extra space, so I donít buy it.

It would be nice to see what a real automotive engineer would say about this subject instead of an economist running high dimensional logistic regressions.


Posted by: A. Zarkov on December 27, 2003 06:07 PM

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I have not read Professor White's article, but reading from the comments above, how do you include pedestrians and motorcyclist/bicylist as statistics for showing that SUVs are more deadly in accidents than other vehicles? (probably passenger cars) I would think the riders of the two wheelers and pedestrians would be as much at risk to a Yugo as to a pickup or SUV. My suggestion is that we all ride bicyles. We could have six wheel bicycles for families, but limit their speed so that if they ran over a bicycle-built-for-two, at most, it would skin an elbow or break a leg. I think we should also limit the size of airplanes. Have you ever seen what a 747 does to a Cessna. But wait, how would we get to Grandmother's house on Christmas, and what would the terrorists have to hijack. Or we could just ride trains. But wait, have you ever seen what a train does to a bicycle, so that will not work. I don't know, it is a real delimma. I am sure the professor will come up with some proposed regulation that our government could enact into law that will legislate this problem out of existence. And for those arrogant, overbearing rednecks and soccer moms who use their vehicles to earn a living and haul their kids to school, stick them in Yugo's so they can dodge the full size cars. Oh, wait a minute, that is another problem isn't it? What is the professors suggestions in equalizing the size of all vehicles? (Stick with me, this is too much fun.) My yard man is really going to be mad when he finds out that he has to pull his 17 foot trailer loaded with John Deere mowers and cram his 5 associates in a Yugo. And my neighbor, who drives her Canyonarro (or something like that) antiquing and to the country club for tea is really going to be hot. A Yugo at the country club? The yard man and the teasipping lady will be so mad that they will probably try to find a couple of bicycle riders and pedestrians to run over and the professor's misleading statistics will become totally inaccurate and misleading.

Posted by: Troy Varner on December 27, 2003 06:50 PM

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"I have not read Professor White's article, but reading from the comments above, how do you include pedestrians and motorcyclist/bicylist as statistics for showing that SUVs are more deadly in accidents than other vehicles?"

I don't think we have to read beyond this question to demonstrate that Troy Varner is an idiot.

Posted by: Draeton on December 27, 2003 08:28 PM

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... and if the SUV weighs more than 6,000 pounds you can take a 100% write off against this year's taxes for your business. Misaligned incentives, misaligned spinal cords -- what a country!

Posted by: decon on December 27, 2003 08:57 PM

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In 2001 we had about 38,000 people killed in some 34,000 fatal crashes. This is for more than 200 million cars, light trucks, vans and SUVs. Large trucks (meaning more than 10,000 pounds gross weight) had 4,400 fatal crashes that killed about 5,000 people. We have 7.8 million large trucks on our roads. So the population of large trucks is much more lethal than the population of cars and light trucks. So why give so much attention to SUVs? Why not look at the really big and dangerous monsters on the roadóthose gigantic trucks? A lot of those truck drivers are nuts. Every day I see them do dangerous things. They go too fast, and they donít keep right. Moreover the roads are littered with truck parts like large pieces of tires that have delaminated and flown off. Several times Iíve had my windshield cracked by trucks spewing pebbles and stones in their wake.

Posted by: A. Zarkov on December 27, 2003 10:03 PM

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This article http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/comment-taylor020403.asp says that Dr. White's study impugns light truck, rather than SUV's:

"The result: SUVs saved between 1,023 and 1,225 lives every year. And the study found no statistically significant evidence that you are more likely to die if your car collided with an SUV than if it collided with another car. Interestingly enough, White found that light trucks were responsible for an unnecessary 2,260 deaths every year. Apparently, it's the pickups and minivans ó not the SUVs ó that are the problem."

Unfortunately, I was unable to open the url for Dr. White's study provided by the New York Times.

Posted by: David on December 27, 2003 10:19 PM

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A. Zarkhov writes:
>
> In 2001 we had about 38,000 people killed in some 34,000
> fatal crashes. This is for more than 200 million cars, light
> trucks, vans and SUVs. Large trucks (meaning more than
> 10,000 pounds gross weight) had 4,400 fatal crashes that
> killed about 5,000 people. We have 7.8 million large trucks
> on our roads. So the population of large trucks is much
> more lethal than the population of cars and light trucks. So
> why give so much attention to SUVs?

Well, large trucks *have* gotten some considerable attention, although truckers and trucking companies have considerable political clout.

But what you said back there doesn't necessarily make any sense. Most accident statistics are given per passenger-mile (e.g., planes) or vehicle-mile. Trucks might only be 4% of all vehicles, but they probably represent a *lot* more than 4% of all vehicle-miles traveled. But, given that caveat, trucks are also much more likely to travel on (relatively) low-mortality interstates. I think more data are needed before sweeping suggestions are made here.

Compared to that, the SUV vs. non-SUV question is much simpler; both vehicle types probably have similar highway/city miles traveled splits, similar yearly miles/vehicle totals, and strongly overlapping driving populations, no pun intended.

Posted by: Jonathan King on December 27, 2003 10:34 PM

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David, the NRO article appears to be up to their usual standards. White's article http://econ.ucsd.edu/~miwhite/suv-revision.pdf classified SUVs and light trucks together -- there was no separate SUV category. The conclusions presented in the NRO as the results of White's research appear to have no relation to what she actually did.

Posted by: Tim Lambert on December 27, 2003 11:52 PM

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Troy Varner (warning, this is anecdotal only) "two wheelers and pedestrians would be as much at risk to a Yugo as to a pickup or SUV".

I was T-boned by a car that ran a stop sign, as I was riding my bicycle to work. (I saw the car drive up to the stop sign, and even saw the driver's face. Imagine my surprise when he didn't stop).

I went over the roof of the car and broke both of my wrists. If I'd been hit by something with the frontal profile of a pick-up or SUV, I'd have been a bug on the grill.

Posted by: Tom on December 28, 2003 01:54 AM

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"...and if the SUV weighs more than 6,000 pounds you can take a 100% write off against this year's taxes for your business."

Morals: Who needs an energy policy? And, lobbying works and has nothing to do with balancing public interests.

Posted by: anne on December 28, 2003 03:39 AM

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Again: The NRO is never to be trusted on research. Why these folks are so full of deceit is a mystery, but who gives a darn. NRO completely distorts the White study and would distort any study that speaks to a broad public good.

http://econ.ucsd.edu/~miwhite/suv-revision.pdf

Posted by: lise on December 28, 2003 04:08 AM

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There is a sense of public responsibility that can easily be lost and has to be cultivated over and over. We are in the midst of cultivating a sense of all that matters is "me." We are losing public services whether for the environment or safety [beef inspection] or the social safety net that will haunt our future.

Posted by: lise on December 28, 2003 04:41 AM

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Tim Lambert -- you are correct. Prof. White included SUVs and light trucks in a single category for the study that Times reported on.

Jerry Taylor's article, published in the National Review, appears to have been based on a different article by Prof. White. Taylor says his source was an article she wrote for the National Bureau of Economic Research, whereas the article cited in the Times was published by the National Highway Safety Transportation Administration.

It's conceivable that Prof. White separated SUVs from light trucks in one study, but combined them in the same category in another study. Note that Taylor's article was written almost a year ago, which also suggests that it may have been based on a different study than the one recently reported in the Times.

Posted by: David on December 28, 2003 06:08 AM

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Next time Trent Lott speaks on the Senate floor about the virtue of choices and private markets, I hope some other Senator reads Varian's excellent discussion of the externalities involved in this issue.

Posted by: Harold McClure on December 28, 2003 07:05 AM

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David, yes, the NRO article must have been referring to the earlier version of White's paper (NBER paper 9302). That version had five instead of seven years of data and treated SUVs and other light trucks separately. The NRO article misrepresents the earlier version of White's paper. The NRO states that "the study found no statistically significant evidence that you are more likely to die if your car collided with an SUV than if it collided with another car". While this statement is true, it is more than a little misleading. The study found that you were more likely to die if your car collided with an SUV or light truck, and that the size of the effect was larger for SUVs. However, the sample size for SUVs was smaller, so that it wasn't quite statistically significant for SUVs but was for light trucks. Nor does the article mention that SUVs were statistically significantly more likely to kill pedestrians or cyclists.

The NRO article gives a very misleading impressions of the NBER paper's findings (which have been superseded by the new version with more data in any case).

Posted by: Tim Lambert on December 28, 2003 07:41 AM

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Remember, for a GOP politician, an negative externality imposed on non-Republican voters is not a negative. As well as negative externalities imposed on non-Republican voters, as long as they continue to vote Republican, and lobbyists will pay to continue those negative externalities.

Posted by: Barry on December 28, 2003 07:47 AM

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Tim Lambert -- Thanks for the information!

Posted by: David on December 28, 2003 09:18 AM

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_High and Mighty_ covers this issue, as well as the question Barry asks at the beginning of the thread: why don't SUV drivers pay more for their unsafe (for others) vehices. It also covers some SUV drivers' guilt after killing somebody...but most of them don't really care.

Good book.

Posted by: Luke Francl on December 29, 2003 10:35 AM

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White's earlier NBER study did separate SUVs from other light trucks and found that while both types of vehicles cause more negative safety externalities than cars, SUVs actually save more lives than cars. That is, the extra safety to the SUV passengers exceeds the lives lost by others when cars are replaced by SUVs. Other light trucks, however, cause more deaths outside the vehicle than they save within. Interestingly, when she looked at serious injuries, SUVs and other light trucks reduce injuries much more within the cab than they cause outside. So, replacing all SUVs with cars would, with no changes in driving behavior, cause total deaths and total injuries to rise. Replacing other light trucks with cars would cause total deaths to fall but total serious injuries to rise.

Posted by: William Johnson on December 29, 2003 01:04 PM

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