NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Fuel Efficiency Vs. Drivers' Lives

July 8, 1999

The energy crises of the 1970s prompted the federal government to impose fuel standards on new cars coming out of Detroit -- called the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. While the standards have resulted in a 50 percent gain in fuel-efficiency, the death toll due to the lighter-weight and less safe vehicles has been considerable.

  • According to a USA Today analysis, 46,000 people have died as a result.
  • Today's "large" cars are almost 1,000 pounds lighter and 10 inches shorter than their 1975 counterparts, according to data from Oak Ridge National Laboratories.
  • A report from the General Accounting Office found that each 500-pound increase in car size reduces the risk of injury by about 14 percent.
  • The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that fatality rates in small cars are nearly twice that of large cars.

All of this means that 7,700 people have died for each mile-per- gallon boost in fuel economy, experts estimate.

Source: Editorial, "Are Lives Really an Acceptable Price for Fuel Efficiency?" USA Today, July 8, 1999.


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