Syndicated Vindication

Another CEI milestone – we’ve made it into the popular syndicated newspaper column The Straight Dope (the column has published since 1973 under the name Cecil Adams, though that’s assumed to be a pen name for multiple authors). The topic this week is the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, with a reader wondering whether the arguments he’s heard from “free market” think tanks about CAFE’s deadly impact could possible be true. As it turns out, they are:

Ever since the feds established the first Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards in 1975, we’ve heard griping from automakers, car enthusiasts, small-government types and some self-described safety advocates. The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative public-policy organization, complains that “CAFE restricts the production of larger, heavier vehicles . . . [which are] safer than similarly equipped smaller cars.” The National Center for Public Policy Research takes a harsher view: “These federal rules are responsible for thousands of needless deaths and injuries.” The Heritage Foundation claims that CAFE contributes “to about 2,000 traffic fatalities per year.” Anti-CAFE folks often cite a 1999 USA Today report (“Death by the Gallon”) claiming 46,000 people had died up to that point as a result of smaller, CAFE-friendly cars—as they put it, 7,700 deaths per every MPG gained.

Are these claims true? We can quibble about the numbers and quarrel with the premises, but the answer essentially is yes—the drive to build smaller cars has resulted in more deaths due to auto accidents (emphasis added).

Unfortunately “Adams” then goes on to cite some positive traffic safety statistics, suggesting that current transportation regulations as a whole have served us well, with the implication that CAFE rules don’t need to be changed:

Face it: saving lives and saving gas to an extent are contradictory goals; the best you can hope for is a reasonable compromise. Not to say things couldn’t be improved, but right now, judging from the numbers, that’s what we’ve got.

A government policy that results in 2,000 additional deaths a year in the interest of conserving gasoline is a “reasonable compromise”? And people accuse us of being heartless for wanting new regulations to be subject to a cost-benefit analysis. At least we side with the human beings.