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President Obama’s auto fatality gaffe

President Obama said some rather strange things during his appearance on The Tonight Show last week, but one gaffe in particular has flown low under the radar.  While he was attempting to downplay the resurgence of al-Qaeda, the President said, “The odds of people dying in a terrorist attack obviously are still a lot lower than in a car accident, unfortunately.”

This was before he came up with the idea of sub-dividing al-Qaeda into a bunch of little micro-divisions so he could claim he was telling the truth when he repeatedly claimed al-Qaeda was decimated and on the run during the 2012 campaign.  Now he claims to have meant “core” al-Qaeda was on the run, but not New al-Qaeda, Diet al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda Classic, Cherry Vanilla al-Qaeda, or al-Qaeda Plus.  On Leno, he seemed more interested in assuring us there was no reason to panic about terrorism, which explains why it’s important for the National Security Agency to monitor the electronic communications of everyone in America.

For a smooth orator, Obama’s delivery of that line was awfully clumsy.  It’s unfortunate that more people aren’t killed by terrorists?  I suspect late-night comedians would have made George Bush pay for dropping a lead balloon like that.  But of course, Barack Obama will never have to worry about widespread mockery for his gaffes.

Clearly what he was trying to say is that more people die in car accidents that terror attacks, and it’s really unfortunate that so many people die in car accidents.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated just over 34,000 traffic fatalities in 2012, a five percent increase over the previous year.  That’s a lot of fatalities, and it is indeed most unfortunate.  It’s rather facile to compare terrorism on U.S. soil to such a death toll.  We are routinely instructed by President Obama and his media allies to panic over far lower body counts from a variety of other sources.

But the other grating thing about the highway-fatalities gaffe is that lighter cars from elevated fuel standards are a significant factor in automobile deaths, and President Obama is four-square in favor of such elevated standards.  He often brags about imposing higher fuel-efficiency standards, even though the auto sales industry has expressed concerns about how sticker shock from meeting these standards will reduce consumer demand.  Larry Bell at Forbes put it bluntly in an August 2011 article entitled “New Auto Fuel Economy Standards Will Regulate Us to Death:”

These changes will have important safety ramifications. A 2003 NHTSA study estimated that every 100 pounds of weight taken off a car weighing more than 3,000 pounds increases the accident death rate slightly less than 5%, and the rate increases as vehicles become lighter than that. Two years earlier a National Academy of Sciences study estimated that CAFE standards at that time were responsible for as many as 2,600 highway deaths in a single year. A 1999 study conducted by USA Today applying federal government Fatality Analysis Reporting System Data attributed deaths of 7,700 people for each additional mpg mandated to meet CAFÉ regulations.

And that’s even before we consider the dangers of sending people into inclement weather conditions while driving tiny, unreliable electric cars.  You really don’t want to be stuck on a lonely winter road in sub-zero temperatures when your electric-car battery dies.  On the bright side, they’ve been known to burst into flames on occasion, so that would at least keep you warm for a while.

This is one of many examples of government policies presented as an unalloyed, nearly cost-free boon to the people, by hiding the true – and sometimes very “unfortunate” – costs, or passing them off as “unintended consequences” that nobody could have foreseen, even though plenty of critics foresaw them.  Perhaps the American people would decide that more fuel-efficient cars and reduced pollution are worth a certain number of traffic fatalities every year, but the question is never put to them with such brutal honesty.  We may be confident that Obama’s “if it saves just one life” standard, unveiled when he was pushing for gun control legislation, will never be applied against anything he supports, from increased CAFE standards to abortion.

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