Friday, August 7, 2009

‘Cash for Clunkers’ cheated some who really needed it

I’ve heard enough about the “Cash for Clunkers” law to give it a “C-minus.”

The only reason it did not fail completely on the report card was because some consumers and companies used it to trade in a real clunker in the name of efficiency.

In this economy, who could blame someone for trading in a 1999 Jeep with 150,000 miles on it for the $4,500 rebate.

This law gets a C-minus because of what happens – or doesn’t happen – to the cars that are traded in.

If you haven’t heard yet, all cars traded in are to be destroyed and never driven again regardless of condition.

In other words, that 1999 Jeep could have made someone else happy further down the chain, but the dealers are required to pour silicon into the engine and render the car undrivable.

What if someone could have used that Jeep – let’s say in a rural area where a single mom could use a better vehicle to get to her job in a nearby town? The law says “too bad, so sad” to her and raises the overall demand and price for used vehicles.

This Wall Street Journal article further explains how the trade-ins are “killed.”

These cars are not even parted out, further depriving the industries that deal in used and reconditioned parts.

Wouldn’t “Cash for Clunkers” have been better served to recycle rather than completely destroy?

Could they not take a lesson from charitable organizations that deal in quality hand-me-downs? Aren’t we in a hand-me-down economy as it is?

I am curious about the carbon footprint involved with a perfectly good car that gets branded and scrapped as a clunker.

This clunker law needed a second tier, a Phase 2, to reach its true goal of efficiency and economic stimulus. It needed a hand-me-down clause because not all of the cars being traded in have been clunkers.

Heck, we have heard that people traded in restorable classic cars to take advantage of the rebate. Yeah, it made us a bit sick, too.

This law, with its flaws, has boosted some assembly line production at the automakers, but even that could be construed as a bailout.

Are the manufacturers going to use this boon to churn out a pile of 50 mpg cars? The answer is negative. The TV ads will still be there, telling us that 26 mpg highway is “great mileage” for metal, non-recyclable composites and batteries on four wheels. Where will these cars go to die when their time is up?

If the government tries again in the future with another clunker law, I hope they allow some of the passable used cars to help someone else further down the chain.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Homo multitaskus?

Distracted driving – is this evolution in action, leading eventually to a new kind of human being, maybe called homo multitaskus? In the long run, will distracted driving become the norm?

Faced with a seemingly unending series of wrecks and fatalities involving motorists, truckers, bus drivers and train operators who were distracted by texting or talking on a cell phone, the U.S. Department of Transportation is making multitasking motoring a federal case. The DOT is calling a distracted driving summit to focus on the problem.

I raise my hand to say I do talk on the phone sometimes when I’m driving, lest someone accuse me of being holier than they. It’s rare for me to initiate the call. And, because I don’t talk to that many people on the phone anyway, I rarely get calls in the car.

Which I think makes me the exception. Recent studies examining the effects of texting or talking on the phone have spotlighted truckers, teenagers and a whole range of other drivers. Though their statistics vary when it comes to the likelihood of a collision, near-collision or traffic violation, one thing is clear: Trying to do something else while driving is a recipe for trouble.

And it’s not just the cell phone. Studies have shown that tuning the radio, adjusting the heater, eating, drinking, shaving, putting on makeup – you name it; if you’re doing it while at the wheel, you’re risking your life even more than usual. And that doesn’t include changing clothes, swatting kids or having sex.

The problem is, of course, how to enforce any kind of law regarding distracting activities. There’s evidence that hands-free phones, for instance, don’t help that much. The conversation itself can distract the driver. So passing those kinds of laws may look good back home, but not have that much of an effect in the long run. Personally, I find hands-free phone use no less of a distraction; in fact, the headset bothers me and muffles my ability to hear things around me.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A rose to the National Enquirer

In late July, a story about an OOIDA member shared headlines with Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Paula Abdul and other celebrities.

I got a tip from a friend in the know that the Goodyear Highway Hero and our OOIDA member Jorge Orozco Sanchez might be featured in the July 20 edition of the National Enquirer. I picked up a copy while cruising my grocery store and flipped through. There it was on the inside back cover: “Hero Trucker Hits Road to Recovery.”

It was clearly the best story in that issue. Half the page is a photo of the October 28, 2008, crash when Jorge’s tractor-trailer was hit head-on by an SUV. Then there’s a photo of Jorge being checked out by paramedics on the crash scene, after he rescued two small children from the back of the burning SUV. There’s also one of Jorge, his wife and three kids and one of Jorge with his recently purchased red Peterbilt.

Enquirer reporter James McCandlish does a nice job telling the story and how the wreck left the 31-year-old owner-operator from Firestone, CO, “nearly destitute.” The story tells how bills piled up and creditors hounded him and that he worked in his brother’s restaurant while his wife worked as a school clerk. Then the good part – how he was chosen as the 2008 Goodyear Highway Hero and how the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association “decided it was time to do the right thing for a guy who had himself done the right thing” and how we helped get Jorge back on the road. Plenty of people jumped on that train and all for a deserving guy.

A rose to the National Enquirer.