The Arms Race of Cars

Since the car was invented, cars have been in an arms race of mass. They’ve been getting heavier and heavier. The average new 2003 car or light-duty truck weighed ~4,000 pounds and had a fuel consumption of ~25 mpg. Do you realize how stupid it is to use a 4,000-pound vessel to transport a 120-pound person? For most Americans, for many, many miles, this is everyday life. We use 4,000-pound vehicles because we believe this is the only way to be safe in a horrific car crash. However, when it comes to going from Point A to Point B, this weight makes today’s cars extremely cost-ineffective. A byproduct of this great inefficiency is that it also greatly pollutes the earth.

Why is there an arms race? In the realm of cars, it is widespread belief that the only defense is offense. Say Brand X releases a 6,000-pound car with 6-inch solid-steel bumpers. It would win the award for safest car of the year. Now, every competing carmaker can either match this number, beat this number (and get an award), or get mangled in a collision with Brand X‘s car. It only takes the release of one heavy car model to render the entire population of cars inadequate for safety, and force carmakers to step up the weight. This arms race in mass prevents lighter, energy-efficient vehicles from being released. For people who get around with an energy-efficient car or a bicycle, one little mistake means death. There are cars like the Edison2, which gets 102 mpg and weighs 830 pounds, but they would not survive on the shared road.

For any problem, the solution can be invention, instruction (i.e. laws), or both. In this case, the best solution is inventions. I have many inventions that I’ll save for another day. Raising gas prices is not the solution because this would affect the entire population of car owners. One solution is a law that designates separate lanes for heavy vehicles and light vehicles. Another solution is to regulate the maximum weight of vehicles. Perhaps better is to regulate the maximum momentum (P=mv) of vehicles. Now, a heavy-yet-necessary vehicle, such as a bus, can exist but must remain below a certain, “heavy-vehicle” speed limit. Since the world already runs on 4,000-pound vehicles, these laws would only stop the current arms race from worsening. To actually fix the problem and bring the weight down would require disarmament: trading in heavy cars for light cars. Enacting any of these laws would put more money in the pockets of car owners and improve Planet Earth.

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© Buism 2010