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from Bloomberg Businessweek,

A change in fuel standards has led to even heavier, more dangerous pickups.

Last July 7 a Nissan Titan pickup truck traveling on a state highway south of Tivoli, Texas, collided head-on with a Honda Civic. All the occupants in both vehicles were wearing seat belts, police said. But the pickup truck, weighing about 5,000 pounds, had physics on its side. The five occupants of the Titan escaped with injuries, but all four occupants of the Civic, which weighs about 2,700 pounds, were killed.

Drivers of passenger cars had nothing in particular to fear from pickup trucks back in 1975, the year Congress passed the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) law, which imposed mandatory mileage requirements on carmakers. Then the two classes of vehicles weighed about the same. As recently as 2000, the weight gap was less than 1,000 pounds. By the 2014 model year, however, the difference had grown to almost 2,000 pounds, according to an October report by the Environmental Protection Agency. The average weight of pickups has risen about 26 percent since 2000 even as the other two types of vehicles classified as light trucks—sport-utility vehicles and minivans—have stayed basically the same weight, the EPA says.

What explains the rise of the XXL pickup? Customer demand, for one. You can’t carry a load of plywood or tow a trailer home with a Ford Focus. And the comforts of tricked-out models such as the Ford F-150 King Ranch, with heated and cooled front seats, are unbeatable. Recently, cheap fuel has also helped prompt consumers to buy bigger.

For the past few years, a quirk in federal policy has made it easy for Americans to keep supersizing their rides: Under CAFE rules that took effect in 2011, bigger cars have lower mileage requirements.

Now, automakers’ mileage targets vary depending on the “footprints” of the vehicles they sell—the area between the four wheels. Cars and trucks are still regulated separately, but within each class, fuel efficiency requirements drop as vehicles grow.

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