NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 10, 2006

President Bush recently called on Congress to give him the authority to raise Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards (known as CAFE) on passenger cars, further dictating the kind of cars Americans will be able to drive, even if they aren't as safe on the road, says the Wall Street Journal.

It is undeniable that higher CAFE standards kill people: Larger, heavier cars have lower death rates in crashes. Because automakers have met CAFE standards largely by reducing automobile weight, traffic fatalities in smaller cars have increased, says the Journal:

  • The National Academy of Sciences focused on the impact of CAFE standards in a single year, 1993, and estimated that they resulted in as many as 2,600 additional deaths.
  • Average car and light-truck weight rose a bit in the 1990s, and in 2002 the Academy wrote that this increase, though detrimental to fuel economy, had saved lives in return.

The administration would be better off pushing for the reforms without the higher CAFE standards, says the Journal. One political and economic bonus is that this would prevent further damage to Ford and GM, which make whatever profits they earn these days from selling larger vehicles. Tighter fuel standards are a boon for Toyota, Honda and others that dominate the smaller-car and sedan markets.

If Americans want to pay what amounts to a virtue premium for buying a Toyota Prius or a Mini, no one is stopping them. But the government shouldn't regulate away the right of other Americans to buy a larger car, along with the greater safety it provides, says the Journal.

Source: Editorial, "Not So Grande CAFE," Wall Street Journal, May 8, 2006

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