Motor Vehicle Traffic Deaths and Fuel Efficiency

John at Powerline makes the claim that:

With a stroke of the pen, Barack Obama has imposed higher fuel-economy standards on the American auto industry. Those standards can only be met by making the average car smaller and lighter than consumers prefer. The inevitable result is that thousands of innocent Americans, possibly tens of thousands, will die painful and sometimes fiery deaths, while many thousands more will be seriously injured.

He links a report by the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) that claims:

To improve fuel economy, auto makers primarily reduce the size and power of vehicles. Unfortunately, this downsizing has tragic consequences … :

  • Researchers at Harvard University and the Brookings Institution found that, on average, for every 100 pounds shaved off new cars to meet CAFE standards, between 440 and 780 additional people were killed in auto accidents – or a total of 2,200 to 3,900 lives lost per model year. [See the figure.]
  • This matches up with what I’ve heard, but I did find another report that claims that, since the 1980’s, many improvements in fuel economy have been made without reducing vehicle weight.  There is probably some truth to that, but how much I don’t know.  In any case, Obama’s new CAFE standards may or may not mean reducing vehicle weight.  If they do, then they will probably lead to increased fatalities.

    The NCPA report has other reasons for opposing these new standards, including the fact that as vehicles become more fuel efficient, and therefore cheaper to drive, people tend to drive more, negating the benefits for both the environment and energy consumption.

    What they don’t mention is that slapping our reeling auto makers with new, tougher standards is likely to harm their ability to recover (if they have any left, of course).

    So much for CAFE.

    The number of traffic fatalities in the US is truly shocking already: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates more than 37,000 Americans last year alone, and that was the fewest annually since 1961.  More about that later.

    Go on!

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