The Deadly Cost of Fuel Economy Regulations
Sam Kazman, General Counsel
Competitive Enterprise Institute
Washington, DC, July 6, 2001 – The costs of government are usually calculated in financial terms, but there are some regulatory programs whose impact extends far beyond dollars. The federal government’s fuel economy program for new cars, commonly known as CAFE (for Corporate Average Fuel Economy), is responsible for literally thousands of traffic deaths each year. This is because CAFE forces cars to be downsized for the sake of fuel economy; smaller, lighter cars, however, are less crashworthy than larger cars in practically every type of accident.
The fact that “CAFE kills” has been recognized by numerous traffic safety and public health researchers, by the auto insurance industry, and even by a federal appeals court. Last week, a new study in the American Journal of Public Health indicated yet again the lethal effects of vehicle downsizing. The study, “Causal Influence of Car Mass and Size on Driver Fatality Risk”, by Dr. Leonard Evans, concluded that adding weight to vehicles would improve safety for both the occupants of those cars and for society as a whole. CAFE, however, restricts this option, because heavier cars are less fuel efficient than lighter ones.
By CEI’s estimate, the current CAFE standards for passenger cars result in over 2,000 additional traffic deaths annually. Nonetheless, we are now hearing calls for even more stringent CAFE standards. Advocates of higher CAFE standards, however, refuse to admit that CAFE has any lethal effects at all. Until those effects are acknowledged, an honest public debate over CAFE is impossible.
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