MADD Canada compromises its integrity by endorsing an automobile company focused on building unsafe SUVS.
By Ted Mitchell
Published December 13, 2006
Andrew Murie, CEO
2010 Winston Park Drive
Several months ago, I saw a newspaper ad sponsored by MADD Canada and GM that specifically thanked General Motors for their partnership and support, which closed by endorsing GM vehicles.
This last point has resulted in my decision no longer to support MADD, after several years of doing so.
As a physician with an interest and considerable knowledge of road safety issues, I have to point out that there is no evidence that GM produces safer vehicles than any other company.
There are two perspectives to safety:
In this latter category, GM does poorly. This is because the company relies heavily on high profit margin, large body-on-frame vehicles such as trucks and SUVs for their solvency.
Cheap body-on-frame technology is about 30 years obsolete with respect to current unibody car technology. A truck frame is essentially a stiff longitudinal steel battering ram aimed at the head and upper torso region of other road users.
Extensive theoretical testing of this concept has been done by NHTSA under the name of "LTV incompatibility" and much of their engineering work is available online. Crash data also exists in this method of compilation, but is not widely distributed or known, likely for cultural reasons related to the unpopular concept of personal responsibility.
A truck frame is essentially a stiff longitudinal steel battering ram aimed at the head and upper torso region of other road users.
In addition, it is well recognized that alcohol impaired drivers are significantly over-represented in SUVs and light trucks. 2
This is especially true in northern and rural areas of Canada. As the population becomes increasingly more urbanized and more rural roads are hard surfaced, the sales of vehicles in this segment continue to grow.
This illogical conclusion can only be explained by marketing-induced demand. At least 80 percent of these vehicles are "vanity vehicles", never used for utility purposes impossible to accomplish with a car.
A late 1990s estimate from NHTSA (no longer available on their website) was that LTV incompatibility accounted for between 4 and 5 percent of the total fatality rate. That is, if all drivers of trucks, SUVs and large vans traded in their vehicles for unibody cars and minivans, the fatality total would drop by that much.Using U.S. numbers of 42,870 fatalities a year (2001-2005 average 3) this means that LTV incompatibility is responsible for 9,000 excess deaths (4 percent) since September 11, 2001 to the time of this letter.
Expressed in 9/11 "units", that equals 3.02 terrorist attacks and counting. This embarrassing fact is sadly ironic in the face of widespread public perception that such large vehicles are "safer".
An appropriately weighted analysis of fatality and injury consequences in occupants and other road users is likely to generate this result: GM vehicles will be identified as being less safe than average, for the simple reason of obsolete frame technology identified above. To be fair to GM, this is also likely true of the "big three".
On the plus side, MADD has done great work with respect to promoting its main goal, as well as commendable work on the growing problem of prescription and illicit drug impairment. It is refreshingly honest to see support for punishing vehicular manslaughter with sentences comparable to death as a result of any other weapon.
Borderline policies such as the push to lower the BAC limit to 0.05 have some advantages. There is a reason this Bill is not supported by the Canada Safety Council, as the epidemiologic evidence linking alcohol with crashes is at best marginal in the BAC range of 0.05 to 0.08.
What this legislation does, however, is to make the 0.08 level truly punishable, instead of the current situation where the police will not bother to prosecute unless the level is at least 0.10 because what of slimy lawyers do in court.
I wish your organization the best of success in reducing the carnage from impaired driving. However, MADD does not need to compromise its integrity with unfounded endorsements of big business.
Ted Mitchell, MD
Note: This open letter will be published on Raise the Hammer, as will any reply received from MADD. It would be appreciated to have General Motors supply vehicle-specific fatality rates in the form of (1) showing the total of occupant and other road user fatalities by vehicle model. Only this data will serve to answer the assertions in this letter.
2. "The Alcohol-Crash Problem in Canada", Transport Canada, 2002 http://www.tc.gc.ca/roadsafety/tp/tp11759/2000/pdf/tp11759e_2000.pdf
3. "Traffic Safety Facts 2005", US Department of Transportation http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pdf/nrd-30/NCSA/TSFAnn/TSF2005EE.pdf
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