Mar 222004
 
Authors: Patrick Cossland

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

death.

“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

further.”

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

said.

With advancements in technology, speed is becoming a cheap and

prevalent commodity, making it easy to come by and hard to pass

up.

“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

horsepower rating.”

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

and cautiously.

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

to accidents.

“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

passion.

“Americans love power, they always will,” Carroll said.

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