Thanks to Holman Jenkins for reminding us, from time to time (here’s one from 2008!), there is still, over 50 years later, a “chicken tax” which places a 25% tariff on imported “trucks”; this helps to distort the automobile market. In his column 3/31/2018 Your Pickup Truck Takes You for a Ride, he pithily summarizes the on-going situation:
Today, the chicken tax goes a long way toward explaining U.S. pickup-truck culture—why millions of American males clog up suburbia with overbuilt, inefficient, single-person transportation vehicles disguised as “work” vehicles…
…These trucks are sturdy enough for the work they seldom do, but are also the most ungainly, ill-handling vehicles on the road for the purposes to which they are actually put. And for the privilege, their buyers pay markups in excess of $10,000 a truck, keeping the manufacturers swimming in profits even while the Big Three dole out sedans to the public practically at cost.
But what about safety?
People like the Cato Institute have, for years (this one is from 1991!), and continuing to this day claim CAFE standards “kill” people*. The thinking is the higher fuel economy demanded by the Corporate Average Fuel Economy inevitably leads to lighter vehicles and this inevitably leads to more traffic deaths. And by deaths, they mean implicitly deaths to occupants of motor vehicles; without any regard to pedestrians. I never completely bought into their core thesis, which seems to suggest everyone would be better off if everyone drove an 80,000 pound vehicle (the weight of a loaded tractor trailer that we all commonly share the roads with).
We know that light trucks (pickup trucks, SUVs, etc) are significantly more likely to result in the death of someone; say a pedestrian, or the occupant of another vehicle; based on research published in 2004, see What if your Crash Partner is a Pedestrian?.
It seems that research hasn’t been updated, but one wonders how many excess deaths the profusion of light trucks is producing, especially in the wake of what is now widely recognized as an epidemic of pedestrian traffic fatalities.
(occupant deaths due to, among other reasons, improved vehicle engineering are indeed down, though the rate of improvement in the US continues to lag behind virtually every other developed nation on earth — see e.g. America Is Now an Outlier on Driving Deaths and the work of Leonard Evans).
*Speaking of externalities, higher fuel prices would be far superior to CAFE standards’ stated goals. Fuel taxes federally and in Arizona haven’t changed per gallon in decades. Leading to enormous and growing shortfalls in road transportation infrastructure in general.