Obama CAFE kills

President Obama unveiled Tuesday a plan to sharply increase federal gas mileage rules for vehicles sold in the United States, eventually bringing the requirement up to an average of 35.5 miles per gallon. Unfortunately, these rules – known as the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards – have the deadly effect of causing new cars to be lighter, smaller and less crashworthy.

CAFE is among the deadliest government regulations we have, and with today’s announcement it’s going to get even deadlier. It kills consumers by reducing vehicle size, and now it may well kill car companies by forcing them to produce cars that consumers don’t want. The only redeeming aspect of the President’s announcement is that there’ll be only one standard imposed on the industry, rather both national and California standards. But that just means carmakers will have one noose around their necks instead of two.

A 2002 National Research Council study found that the federal CAFE standards contributed to about 2,000 deaths per year through their restrictions on car size and weight. An increase in the severity of the rules will only raise that death toll. Shockingly, the federal agency tasked with making Americans safer on the road – the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – has refused to acknowledge this fact, even after being overturned by a federal court for ignoring the issue.

As bad as CAFE is, it’s an even more ominous sign that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is being joined in this initiative by the Environmental Protection Agency. Longtime observers of the EPA know that while the agency’s mission is to protect human health and the environment, it’s usually not in that order.

In addition to being sold as a global warming measure, the tightening of CAFE standards is, even less convincingly, being promoted as a boon for economic growth. Advocates have claimed that more fuel efficient cars are the future of the auto industry, yet have not explained why this should require government mandates.