Gas mileage and safe cars

Sylvia Porter

September 11, 1990|By Sylvia Porter | Sylvia Porter,1989 Los Angeles Times Syndicate

It's unlikely the price you pay for gasoline at your local service station will come down any time soon.

Meantime, automobiles that get good gas mileage will be at a premium, especially on the used car market. The difference between the cars that got the best mileage per gallon in the mid-1970s and those that got the worst, as I recall it, was somewhat broader than it is now. There are far fewer "gas hogs" today than there were 15 years ago.

That having been said, as gasoline rises toward and above $1.50 per gallon, you are likely to give more consideration to gas mileage when you choose a car.

What's more, the gas price boom will limit your bargaining space when negotiating the purchase of a new, small car. On the other hand, it will produce some real bargains among mid-size cars.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) suggests some matters you should consider when buying a car.

Last year 45,555 people died on the nation's streets, highways and roads. That's 18 per 100,000 Americans, down from 22 per 100,000 in 1980. Other facts from the IIHS study:

L *The highest rate of traffic fatalities is among teen-agers.

*More than half of all traffic accident fatalities happen on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

*More than half occur between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.

*More than two-thirds of those killed are the drivers of the vehicles.

*Your greatest chance of being killed in an automobile crash is on a Saturday in December.

Those statistics are provocative but they tell nothing about the vehicles in which these unfortunate persons were riding. That job falls to another set of statistics, also prepared by the IIHS.

During 1989, your chances of surviving an automobile crash grew rapidly as the size of your automobile grew. For instance, the occupants of very small cars involved in single-vehicle accidents died at a rate three times as high as those who were in full-size models. In multiple-car accidents, the survival rate among those in big cars was twice as high.

Even more dangerous, says the report, are pickup trucks. Small pickups had a fatality rate half again as high as even the smallest cars. Larger pickups were more dangerous to be in during a crash than all but the smaller pickups and small vans.

The vehicles most likely to give you the kind of gas mileage you seek are not necessarily the ones that will best protect you in an automobile accident. The situation is worse in states that have increased speed limits to 65 miles per hour.

What's the answer, then? A moderate approach will give you a sense of security without bankrupting you at the gas pump. Mid-size cars, many of which have small but peppy engines and therefore good gas mileage, are twice as safe in a crash as the very small gas misers. Insurance rates for such cars are correspondingly low -- something you must consider when calculating the total cost of buying a car.

You can respond further to the safety issue by limiting your driving late at night, especially on weekends -- when you are most likely to encounter a drunk driver.

Of course, you always should fasten your seat belt. State laws or no state laws, it is simply foolish to ride in or drive a car without being strapped in.

There is something more you can do to make your driving both safer and more economical. Though it's almost heresy to suggest it, you could limit your driving. Since the last gas crunch, much has been done to make it easy to reduce your driving. Fax machines make physical deliveries less essential than ever before. Banking can be done by telephone in many places. Public transportation is more widely available than it was a few years ago.

All of which are safer and cheaper than driving.

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