Fuel Economy Restrictions a Deadly Proposition (Letter to Editor)

In defending California’s new CO2 emission standard, Joan Claybrook claims that “size and design, not weight, are the critical factors” in auto safety (Letters, Sept. 29). This contradicts her own 1977 testimony before Congress as well the findings of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration both when she headed the agency and since then —namely, that the reduction of both car size and car weight to increase fuel economy would have deadly consequences. Because a CO2 standard essentially regulates fuel economy, it too will prove deadly.

Here’s what Ms. Claybrook said back in 1977. Asked’ at a Senate hearing whether there was a conflict between auto safety and fuel economy, she said, “There are going to be trade-offs.” Asked whether “a big gas-guzzling Cadillac is safer on the highway than a little Volkswagen,” she answered, “There is no question about that.”

In her letter, Ms. Claybrook dismisses the safety argument as “phony” despite the fact that the lethal downsizing and down-weighting effects of fuel economy standards have been recognized by such organizations as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Academy of Sciences. Her view is inconsistent with her past testimony; in fact, my colleagues and .I have assembled a collection of such contradictions in “Flip-Flopping on Small Car Safety;” which can be viewed on our Web site at www.cei.org. Her  approach, unfortunately, is consistent with that of other advocates of more stringent fuel economy standards. Such advocates simply refuse to admit that these standards have already killed thousands of people and that raising them would kill thousands more.

Ms. Claybrook, you will recall, also once informed us that air bags “work beautifully” for little children and are better than seat belts. In fact, air bags are worse than seat belts and have caused child deaths. We shouldn’t have listened to her then, and we shouldn’t listen to her now.