The Deadly Effects of Fuel Economy Standards: CAFE’s Lethal Impact on Auto Safety

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In 1997, over 21,000 car occupants died in traffic accidents in the United States. We know about the causes and contributing factors for many of these deaths, such as reckless driving, alcohol, and failing to use seatbelts, and we have many government programs aimed at reducing these factors. But there is one government program that actually increases traffic fatalities. This is the federal new-car fuel economy program, popularly known as CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy). CAFE has resulted in a significant downsizing of the passenger car fleet. However, because small cars are less crashworthy than similarly equipped large cars, CAFE has increased car occupant deaths. As this study shows, in 1997 CAFE was responsible for between 2,600 and 4,500 traffic fatalities. If CAFE is made even more stringent, as some advocate, this toll will only increase.