Images of cars speeding through city streets, jetting through
traffic and powering around other vehicles are common portrayals of
drivers in commercials.
However, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway
Safety, these images may translate into erratic driving and even
“They are marketing safety less than speed and horsepower and
using it as a way to sell vehicles, but it encourages behavior that
causes crashes,” said Russ Rader, spokesperson for the institute.
“We have surveyed commercials on TV, and performance and horsepower
are a frequent theme. Safety is the theme of only a handful.”
The dominant theme in 17 percent of car ads aired in 1998 was
performance, according to a study conducted by the institute.
“They obviously think this is a selling point, but it goes
against the clear importance of speed limits to prevent crashes,”
Rader said. “It sends the wrong message to young consumers who are
the most likely to speed and die in crashes.”
According to Rader, the combination of speed and youthfulness
often has deadly results, making drivers ages 16 to 18 four times
more at risk of injury than older drivers.
“It’s irresponsible to market high-performance vehicles to the
highest-risk drivers,” Rader said. “Young drivers are
overrepresented in crashes that are the result of speed. Any time
speed is involved, it makes the crash even worse.”
While past generations boasted muscle cars and drag races, it is
today’s generation that is perfecting power.
“It’s surprising for people to realize horsepower now surpasses
muscle cars in the ’60s and ’70s,” he said. “These things have
always been an issue with young male drivers. Ads only encourage it
Rader said one contributor to the excessive speed on public
roadways problem is a relaxed societal attitude toward reckless
driving. While both drinking and driving are illegal and generally
viewed as socially irresponsible, speeding, although illegal, is
perceived as a lesser taboo.
“There’s a negative societal attitude toward drinking and
driving and even using cell phones while driving,” he said. “But
there’s no negative stigma attached to speeding. Speed is more
likely to lead to death on a highway than cell phones.”
John Carroll, owner of Ed Carroll Volkswagen Porsche, 3003 S.
College Ave., manufactures gear advertisements toward youth with
the goal of reeling in younger consumers who will continually trade
up to more expensive cars as they get older.
Mitsubishi, which used to target younger audiences, changed to a
more mainstream audience because it felt like the company was
targeting kids too young to buy cars they couldn’t afford, he
With advancements in technology, speed is becoming a cheap and
prevalent commodity, making it easy to come by and hard to pass
“There is a reason why manufacturers target youth,” he said.
“With the little turbo-charged cars for very little money, you can
buy (computer) chips to pump up the horsepower.”
Though Americans don’t need power like in Germany where there
are no speed limits, they want to know they have the power when
they need it, he said.
“Americans want power when they pass, or going up mountain
passes,” Carroll said. “When car companies make a new car, they
tune the engine to make sure it will beat the competition in the
Carroll questions the wisdom behind marketing speed and power in
a culture of car racing movies such as “The Fast and the Furious”
and car games like “Grand Theft Auto.”
“I do think it’s a little careless to merchandise a car based on
a drag-racing culture,” he said.
The drag-racing culture is big business for companies such as
PFI, Inc., 5720 S. Bueno Dr., which specializes in installing
after-market parts to enhance power in vehicles.
“Business is great; people come in daily,” said Paul Hackman,
general manager. “I’ve got 13 to 15 cars here now. There is never a
shortage of people wanting to do stuff to their car.”
Souping up vehicles like those seen in “The Fast and The
Furious” has become a new art, one that deals with computerized
engines and microchips.
“There’s a lot of different ways you can go about souping up
cars depending on how much you want to spend,” he said.
Most new cars come equipped with a governing computer chip that
prevents the driver from reaching speeds faster than 100 mph.
However, by switching out the computer that aids the engine, the
car is only limited to how fast the engine is able to go and how
fast the driver desires.
“It’s only as fast as you want it to be,” he said. “It’s up to
the person. The cars we build can be handled by anyone. It’s up to
the person driving it.”
Hackman said he serves a wide variety of customers, though the
majority of his customers are between the ages of 18 and 30. Young
males are not the only ones seeking to put power in their cars.
“Lately, over the last couple of years, we’ve had more female
customers,” Hackman said. “I get everybody from 18-year-olds to
guys in their mid-life crisis. Everybody wants to go fast.”
Bob Wilson, spokesperson for the Colorado Department of
Transportation, said the primary issue with reckless driving is not
only excessive speed but also not recognizing when to drive slowly
Generally a driver can safely cruise at speeds of 75 to 80 mph
on highways because highways are designed for those kinds of
speeds. However, neglecting caution and responsibility often leads
“What tends to cause the biggest accidents is people following
too close, causing chain accidents,” he said.
The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office has seen a rise in the
number of individuals eluding officers this year, said Eloise
Campanella, the office’s press information officer.
“We’ve had to go to increased speeds to stop these people,” she
said. “What we are seeing are a seeming rise in people not yielding
to emergency vehicles.”
Despite consequences that range from trouble with the parents to
trouble with the law, some say the love of power is an undying
“Americans love power, they always will,” Carroll said.