New cars and light trucks sold in the United States last year were heavier, on average, than in any year since 1976. And that doesn’t even count Hummers, Ford Excursions, and other uber-SUVs that are too large to qualify as light trucks. Like its human form, vehicular obesity is boosting death rates.

An excellent New York Times article today points out that

Traffic deaths in the United States rose to 43,220 last year, the most since 1990. Before the S.U.V. boom, the country had the world’s lowest highway death rate, taking miles driven into account, but it now ranks behind at least eight other developed nations, including Canada, Australia, Britain and Sweden. Lower rates of seat belt use and other factors play a part, but much of the difference stems from the composition of the national vehicle fleet, researchers say.

  • (Crash deaths have risen sharply in Portland, though probably for lack of traffic patrols, not increased SUVs.)

    We’ll further chronicle the appalling toll of crash deaths in Cascadia another day, but today, suffice it to say that the Northwest states are ahead of the national average on supersized vehicles. Trucks already outnumber cars in Idaho, they are neck and neck in Oregon, and they’re gaining in Washington. (Read “Cars and Trucks” in this book.)

    Overweight vehicles also increase fuel consumption. Fuel broker and consultant Michael Tusiani writes in the Washington Post, “We buy more thirsty SUVs than thrifty sedans. Over the past five years, that preference has driven gasoline consumption upward an average of 1.6 percent per year.” Here in the Northwest, highway fuel consumption has actually dipped slightly in recent years, despite our bigger vehicles. Smart-growth policies and the slow economy are the probable reasons.