NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 7, 2005

Higher fuel economy standards may save gasoline but they won't save lives, says Investor's Business Daily (IBD). In fact, they will likely increase the number of motor vehicle deaths, and for no good reason.

The White House is suggesting new corporate-average fuel economy (CAFE) standards for SUVs, minivans and light trucks, which are expected to save about 10 billion gallons of gasoline in the first three years. But as IBD recalls, the CAFE standards forced on the country in the 1970s as a response to the Arab oil embargo did not save a lot of fuel.

  • When Americans bought cars with improved mileage, they just drove more and the demand for oil continued to climb.
  • Americans consume more imported oil than they did 30 years ago, and their share of imported oil has also grown -- from about 33 percent in 1975 to almost 60 percent today.

Americans not only drive more, says IBD, they also die in larger numbers, as smaller and lighter cars -- manufactured to comply with Washington's rules -- lead to more carnage. Consider:

  • The downsizing and downweighting America's automobiles has contributed to between 1,000 and 3,000 additional deaths a year, according to a 2002 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) study on CAFE standards.
  • Two years later the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration said the NAS study undercounted CAFE's deadly effects.

Furthermore, says IBD, the market is already responding to higher gasoline prices and this year marks the third in a row that total U.S. mileage efficiency has improved.

Instead of a one-size-fits-all move to mandate higher fuel standards, higher prices would do the same job, and probably a lot more efficiently. When prices go up, people respond.

Source: Editorial, "Death Traps?" Investor's Business Daily, August 26, 2005.


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