Can we be more honest?


Did you see the other day, the star of The Hunger Games was saying it should be made a criminal offense to call anyone fat on television. Indeed, when you look at many of the television shows like The X-Factor and American Idol, the early stages are all about the embarrassment of the assessment panel who are forced to find ways of politely informing the singers, dancers or other entertainers that their acts are really, really bad. As the years have gone by, we’ve stopped honestly judging and ranking people. We now tend to find ways in which everyone can be given good news about their performances. The standards are being lowered so more can be congratulated for passing the tests or exams. This is leading to general problems in society because, for example, the young are less likely to be corrected when they misbehave. The result is more of our young misbehaving.

As if this lack of honest is not dangerous enough, it has spread to the business of reviewing the performance of new makes and models of vehicles. This is producing an interesting conflict of interests. On the one side we have the car insurance industry and some more concerned consumers who want all the bad news about safety issues given due prominence. The insurers need to know the worst because that helps them set accurate rates. Consumers need to know so they can buy the safest vehicles for themselves and their families. On the other side of the fence sit the motor manufacturers who want to sell the maximum possible number of their product. They only want good news about the safety performance of their designs. So the big question is where the big government should sit.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was created by the government to run crash tests and see whether vehicles would rollover. If problems in the performance are discovered, a recall is agreed so the defects can be fixed. You would hope the tests run by government would be “state of the art”, i.e. would be really tough and discover all the weak points. But your hope would be wasted. The government tests have low standards to meet and too many models are passing with top marks. The new star is the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It has just released its list of the safest vehicles for 2014.

Last year, the IIHS listed 130 vehicles as passing its tests. For 2014, only 39 have passed the test. Why? Well the IIHS has devised new tests which are closer to the accidents that happen in the real world. Manufacturers that have been actively designing for the maximum safety are rewarded. The rest have had a wake-up call. Ironically, the government has also been told it’s being too friendly with the manufacturers. If it was genuinely interested in protecting consumers, it would have updated its tests years ago and failed the majority of models instead of giving them five stars.

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