Was the National Academy of Sciences’ CAFE Report Wrong?

Was the National Academy of Sciences’ CAFE Report Wrong?

It Wouldn't Be The First Time
October 04, 2001

Washington, D.C., October 4, 2001—The National Academy of Sciences will hold an apparently unprecedented meeting tomorrow, to investigate whether its recent report on federal fuel economy standards mistakenly overstated the possible benefits of new technologies.  The NAS report on the program, known as CAFE (corporate average fuel economy), is being characterized by some as a blueprint for expanding it.  These claims are being made even though the report found that CAFE has contributed to thousands of traffic deaths.  If the report is mistaken on the issue of new technology, then the impetus for making the program more stringent may well be deflated.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />


The NAS, however, has already shown its fallibility on CAFE, according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute.  “The NAS already made one serious blunder on CAFE,” said CEI’s general counsel, Sam Kazman.  “An earlier NAS report in 1992 concluded that the evidence on the program’s safety effects was ambiguous.  Its new report, however, finds that CAFE is lethal, having contributed to between 1,300 and 2,600 traffic fatalities annually by encouraging the production of downsized, less crashworthy vehicles.”


CEI also charged that the new report overlooked the risks inherent in mandating new automotive technologies.  As experience with the antilock truck brake standard and the air bag mandate demonstrate, government requirements in this area have often backfired.


But the fact that the NAS totally missed the safety issue when it first analyzed CAFE is the major reason for caution in expanding this program.  “The fact that the Academy drastically erred on safety in the past indicates that its latest report cannot be regarded as a reliable guide to eliminating CAFE’s risks,” Kazman added.  “Rather than thinking about how to make it more stringent, our attention should be on how CAFE was allowed to impose that death toll in the first place.”


CEI and Consumer Alert brought a series of lawsuits from 1988 to 1995, challenging the Transportation Department’s claim that CAFE has no impact on auto safety.


Sam Kazman can be reached for interviews at 202.331.1010, ext. 218, or through the media relations department at 202.331.1010.



CEI is a non-profit, non-partisan public policy group dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government.  For more information, visit our website at www.cei.org.