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EDITORIAL: Saving gas, wasting lives
Costly consequences of the new fuel-efficiency standard
President Obama’s latest fuel-efficiency decree means consumers will have to turn in their SUVs and pickup trucks for tiny, European-style city cars within the next few years. It’s also likely to produce another, more costly consequence: a lot more death on America’s roads.
Last month, the president proudly announced a “groundbreaking” rule that will more than double the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) mandate from an average of 25.2 miles per gallon (mpg) for model year 2012 to 54.5 mpg for model year 2025.
It’s a massively complex rule that spans 1,239 pages with the stated goal of reducing oil consumption. It’s more likely to end up costing lives. Fuel efficiency is inversely proportional to vehicle weight, so as a car’s poundage goes down, its gas mileage goes up. To achieve the higher targets, auto manufacturers will be forced to build smaller, lighter vehicles with less steel and pricier substitutes like composite materials.
Statistics show lightweight vehicles fare poorly in crashes, and so do their occupants. Traffic-safety expert Leonard Evans says research indicates a vehicle’s weight is the overwhelming factor that determines accident survivability. “CAFE has caused, and is causing, increased deaths. Higher CAFE standards will generate additional deaths,” Mr. Evans states.
While the Obama administration can mandate new gas-mileage standards, the president can’t alter the laws of physics. No estimate was proffered of the additional highway deaths likely to result from the expected shift to less-substantial vehicles. An extensive study of crash data by USA Today in 1999 found that as autos got smaller and more fuel-efficient, every mile-per-gallon increase in gas economy resulted in about 7,700 roadway deaths. In a separate report in 2002, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that a small increase in the CAFE standard during the late 1970s and early ‘80s “probably resulted in an additional 1,300 to 2,600 traffic fatalities in 1993.” Accordingly, the downsizing of vehicles that would help manufacturers achieve the new mandates could conservatively result in thousands of additional fatalities each year.
For those who can afford to spring for newer, more expensive driving machines, high-tech advances in construction and collision-mitigation systems offset some of the inevitable risk of hitting the road in the tiny sleds the Obama administration wants Americans to drive. But the average econobox isn’t so protected.
The net economic loss to society could be significant. In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a co-author of the new gas-mileage standard, set the statistical value of a human life at $9.1 million. Using the EPA’s own figure, highway fatalities resulting from the new Obama CAFE standard could amount to hundreds of billions over the next decade. The agency regularly produces estimates of lives and money saved as a result of its enforcement of the Clean Air Act, but not so for the mass of souls and heap of treasure likely to be lost in its campaign against affordable oil and automobiles.
Bottom line: Beware of the unintended consequences of Uncle Sam’s helping hand.
The Washington Times
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