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While my full size American car and its full size windows were out of service I borrowed a friend’s Prius. Now I understand the complaints about slow hybrids clogging the fast lane. It’s not necessarily that they don’t care. Slow drivers can’t see a line of traffic and a row of middle fingers through that tiny rear window.

If the federal government didn’t like Toyota the folks at NHTSA would crunch some numbers and blame thousands of deaths on lack of situational awareness, like they’re doing now with “distracted driving”. It’s the same underlying problem, not paying attention to your surroundings. Look at your cell phone and you don’t care what’s in front of you right now. Buy a Prius and you don’t care what’s behind you, ever.

But they aren’t going to do that study, and if they did people would be right to doubt it.

Be wary of retrospective traffic safety studies by anybody with an agenda. Look at the conflicting estimates of how many lives speed limit changes have cost or saved.

Does the kind of person who buys a Prius drive more or less safely than the average person? You can adjust the data to account for that difference, or leave it out, depending on which option supports your opinion. I suspect that’s how NHTSA supposedly proved that adding a third brake light made roads safer. They already had a rule. When Congress said the agency needed to justify it, they adjusted numbers until it appeared justified. (When NHTSA scrapped its 85 mph speedometer rule that was because Reagan told them to prune Carter’s regulations.)

The benefits of that fat rear end are quantifiable, and not just in liters per 100 km (miles per gallon for Americans).

Toyota’s product design and marketing departments deserve an award for getting people to pay up to $4,000 more for that distinctive shape. There are other hybrids, but your liberal neighbors will instantly recognize a Prius as “green” without looking for a badge. It’s a status symbol. (Conservatives still buy them, but just to drive.)

But the costs… I don’t know. In America we like numbers. Sticker price and miles per gallon are easy numbers. You can do math with them, like you can do math with speed and distance to come up with traffic signal timings.

But if the system fails when it meets human beings, it’s broken no matter how much the numbers say it should work. The new traffic light down the street does not meet the needs of road users, and the Prius does not meet my needs.

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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