NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Fuel Restrictions Don't Conserve Gas

April 14, 2003

Federal regulators on April 1 ordered a 1.5-mile per gallon increase in fuel economy for light trucks, vans and sport utility vehicles. Under the new standards, auto manufacturers must achieve a fleet average of 22.2 miles per gallon for this class of vehicles by 2007.

The higher Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) mandate will provide $249 million in benefits and save 3.6 billion gallons of gasoline over a 25-year period, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

However, the projected savings are unlikely to be realized:

  • "CAFE hasn't reduced gasoline consumption," says John Merline, a columnist for USA Today and Tech Central Station, "people are buying more gasoline today than in 1975 (just before CAFE was first enacted), despite gains in auto efficiency."
  • The Department of Transportation agrees, citing the fact that the number of miles driven by passenger cars and light trucks climbed 104 percent between 1975 and 2000.
  • The costs of accidents will increase due to lighter vehicles and congestion will increase due to the additional miles of driving higher fuel economy encourages, and those costs will "fully offsets and probably outweighs the social benefits resulting from greater fuel economy," according to a study from the AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies.

CAFE has already cost thousands of lives, experts say:

  • A National Research Council (NRC) report estimates that CAFE standards killed as many as 2,600 people in 1993 alone, as the higher fuel standards caused automakers to downsize their fleets, pushing car buyers into smaller, less-safe cars.
  • By 1999, CAFE had killed a total of 46,000 since the law was passed USA Today reported -- that's equal to roughly 7,700 deaths for every mile per gallon gained.

Source: James M. Taylor, "Feds Tighten Fuel Economy Mandates on Light Trucks," April 8, 2003, Heartland Institute.

 

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