New Study Shows Death Toll Of Auto Fuel Economy Mandates

Full Study available via .pdf file.

Washington, DC, June 21, 1999 – Of the 21,000 car occupant deaths that occurred last year, between 2,600 and 4,500 were attributable to the federal government’s new-car fuel economy standards. This is the conclusion of a new study released today by the Competitive Enterprise Institute on what are known as the CAFE standards (for Corporate Average Fuel Economy). Yet, in a congressional debate that is likely to peak later this week, some politicians are calling for changes that could make CAFE even more lethal. According to the new CEI study, The Deadly Effects of Auto Fuel Economy Standards, if CAFE were to be raised from its current 27.5 mpg level to 40 mpg, total deaths caused by the program would increase to between 3,800 and 5,700 annually.

“CAFE works by requiring automakers to ensure that the average fuel economy of each year’s fleet of passenger cars meets the standard,” explains study author Julie DeFalco, CEI adjunct analyst. “The most dramatic effect of this law has been the downsizing of cars over the past twenty years.”

CAFE standards first appeared in the mid 1970’s as a means to conserve oil. Currently, these deadly standards are touted as necessary to combat alleged global warming. ” But global warming is a highly speculative future threat, while CAFE is a concrete threat that is already taking place,” Defalco points out.

A 1989 Harvard University – Brookings Institute study determined that the current CAFE standard of 27.5 mpg causes a 14-27% increase in annual traffic deaths due to this downsizing. CEI’s new study supplies a state-by-state breakdown of predicted deaths if the CAFE standard is raised to 40 mpg, as the Clinton/Gore administration have suggested, as well as 1997 deaths on the roads caused by CAFE.

The study looks at another possible target of CAFE standards – sport utility vehicles (SUVs). SUV critics argue that these vehicles pose unreasonable hazards to other cars. But the CEI study notes that, according to government data, downsizing SUVs would have practically no effect on traffic safety. “Upsizing” cars, on the other hand, would save a significant number of lives.

CEI, a non-profit, non-partisan public policy group founded in 1984, is dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government. For more information or a copy of the study, please contact Emily McGee, director of media relations, at 202-331-1010, ext. 209.