Safety Effects Of Fuel Efficiency Law Shift Public Opinion: Survey Shows


Washington, D.C. January 20, 1999 – A nationwide survey on environmental concerns released this week shows that most Americans oppose automobile fuel efficiency standards once they learn that the standards reduce auto safety. “While Americans favor new-car fuel efficiency laws in the abstract, their opinion shifts once they learn about the deadly impact these laws have on traffic safety,” said CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman.

The National Environmental Survey, commissioned by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, found that 57 percent of registered voters would oppose federal the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards if they “were shown to cause 2,000 to 4,000 traffic deaths per year.” According to a Harvard University-Brookings Institution study, CAFE has precisely this effect. By forcing carmakers to produce smaller, less crashworthy vehicles, it results in a 14 to 27 percent increase in occupant fatalities — an increase of 2,000 to 4,000 additional traffic deaths yearly.

Nevertheless, an increase in the current CAFE standard of 27.5 mpg is high on the agenda of many global warming activists. The Sierra Club says that raising CAFE to 45 mpg is “the biggest single step to curbing global warming.”

Without information about CAFE’s safety effects, the law was favored by a slim majority of respondents — 51 percent favored CAFE, and only 23 percent opposed it. However, support for CAFE slipped to a 44 percent plurality when respondents were informed about CAFE’s downsizing effect and the general relationship between vehicle size and safety. Once respondents learned of the actual magnitude of CAFE’s estimated lethal effects, this support disappeared — public sentiment shifted to 57 percent opposed and 19 percent in favor. “Americans are simply not willing to trade blood for oil,” Mr. Kazman stated.

The survey, conducted by the polling company for CEI, included 1,000 randomly selected registered voters nationwide, and was administered by telephone in December. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. Copies of the poll are available on the CEI worldwide web site at


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