Wednesday, July 09, 2008

CAFE Kills

The left's policies always come with some kind of negative unintended consequences which can range from the merely comical to the downright lethal. The CAFE Standard (Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards) is one of the ones with lethal consequences, as seen in this National Center for Public Policy Research study by Ryan Balis.

On the heels of the Arab oil embargo, in 1975 Congress enacted Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards as a regulatory solution to reduce the United States' dependence on foreign oil and gasoline consumption.1 CAFE standards mandate that vehicles sold in the U.S. meet fuel efficiency - or "fuel economy" - standards. Current standards require an average of 27.2 miles per gallon (mpg) for cars and 21.6 mpg for light trucks.2

Beginning in 2008, "one-size-fits-all" CAFE standards for light trucks will be phased out. New regulations will divide light trucks into six categories based on vehicle size - each category having its own mpg target.3 However, the fuel economy for these vehicles will be raised from the current 22.2 mpg to 24.0 mpg in model year 2011.4

According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimate, implementing this change will cost American consumers over $6.71 billion in added vehicle expenses from 2007-2011.5 Yet Marlo Lewis, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, calculates that the fuel savings will be a mere 0.44 billion gallons of gasoline annually.6 On average, U.S. cars and light trucks consume some 11 billion gallons of gasoline each month.7

Despite the new regulatory "reform," high gas prices have lawmakers in Washington debating, once again,8 whether to impose even steeper CAFE standards. For instance, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) proposed burdensome across-the-board legislation to increase CAFE standards to 35 mpg on both light trucks and cars by model year 2017.9 Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) have also recently called for CAFE increases.10

But such increases have unintended safety consequences for the safety of drivers and passengers. The reason is because carmakers build lighter and smaller cars that burn less fuel to comply with CAFE standards.11 The trade-off is these lighter, smaller cars fare much worse in violent crashes, resulting in greater rates of death and injury for occupants.

A number of studies have documented the lethal consequences of requiring carmakers to improve fuel standards.

* According to a 2003 NHTSA study, when a vehicle is reduced by 100 pounds the estimated fatality rate increases as much as 5.63 percent for light cars weighing less than 2,950 pounds, 4.70 percent for heavier cars weighing over 2,950 pounds and 3.06 percent for light trucks. Between model years 1996 and 1999, these rates translated into additional traffic fatalities of 13,608 for light cars, 10,884 for heavier cars and 14,705 for light trucks.12

* A 2001 National Academy of Sciences panel found that constraining automobile manufacturers to produce smaller, lighter vehicles in the 1970s and early 1980s "probably resulted in an additional 1,300 to 2,600 traffic fatalities in 1993."13

* An extensive 1999 USA Today analysis of crash data found that since CAFE went into effect in 1978, 46,000 people died in crashes they otherwise would have survived, had they been in bigger, heavier vehicles. This, according to a 1999 USA Today analysis of crash data since 1975, roughly figures to be 7,700 deaths for every mile per gallon gained in fuel economy standards.14

* The USA Today report also said smaller cars - such as the Chevrolet Cavalier or Dodge Neon - accounted for 12,144 fatalities or 37 percent of vehicle deaths in 1997, though such cars comprised only 18 percent of all vehicles.15

* A 1989 Harvard-Brookings study estimated CAFE "to be responsible for 2,200-3,900 excess occupant fatalities over ten years of a given [car] model years' use." Moreover, the researchers estimated between 11,000 and 19,500 occupants would suffer serious but nonfatal crash injuries as a result of CAFE.16

* The same Harvard-Brookings study found CAFE had resulted in a 500-pound weight reduction of the average car. As a result, occupants were put at a 14 to 27 percent greater risk of traffic death.17

* Passengers in small cars die at a much higher rate when involved in traffic accidents with large cars. Traffic safety expert Dr. Leonard Evans estimates that drivers in lighter cars may be 12 times as likely to be killed in a crash when the other vehicle is twice as heavy as the lighter car.18