Sunday, May 31, 2009

President Obama’s push to force Americans into smaller cars ignores one big problem — small cars are less safe than big cars. Ignoring this fact will cost lives.

Mr. Obama announced new miles-per-gallon regulations on May 19 that mandate that automobiles achieve 42 mpg by 2016. During last year’s presidential campaign, Mr. Obama’s Web site boasted that his positions on fuel economy were “science-based.” Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, said on Jan. 15 that efforts “to reduce global warming and our dependence on foreign oil … must be based on the science ….” Apparently, this faith in science does not apply to the science of auto safety.

The scientific evidence on car size and safety is overwhelming. The National Academy of Sciences, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Congressional Budget Office, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and numerous academic studies are all in agreement on this point: Higher miles-per-gallon requirements lead to more deaths from car accidents.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety noted in its April 14 report that “some mini-cars earn higher crash worthiness ratings than others, but as a group these cars generally can’t protect people in crashes as well as bigger, heavier models.” A 2002 report by the National Academy of Sciences found that, in 1993, federal fuel-economy standards resulted in 1,300 to 2,600 additional deaths per year.

The question is one of simple physics. Smaller, lighter cars do not offer occupants the same protection as larger, heavier vehicles when they collide with other objects. More than 43,000 Americans died in car crashes in 2005 and 2006.

Setting aside auto safety will only make the roads more deadly.

The latest numbers from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released in April show that small cars have a 55 percent higher death rate than midsize ones. Occupants of small cars that run into large cars are more vulnerable to fatalities in such impacts. Accidents involving two small cars are more likely to involve fatalities than crashes between two large cars. Large cars that collide into trees or fixed barriers are also much safer.

The mania for higher fuel economy is driven by environmentalists who think that this is the most efficient way of conserving energy and cutting down on carbon emissions, which they claim contribute to global warming. Whatever the benefits — if any — of fighting global warming, they must be weighed against the costs of proposed policies. In addition to the loss of life, there is a significant price penalty to the consumer. The Obama administration estimates that the new fuel-economy regulations will increase the cost of producing each new car by at least $1,300.

On May 12, the White House withdrew the nomination of Chuck Hurley to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Mr. Hurley had a long record of backing hyperregulation as chief executive officer of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and as a board member of the National Campaign to Stop Red Light Running. Environmental groups reportedly opposed his nomination because he had said that increased Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards made cars less safe. Contradicting environmentalist orthodoxy carries a price.

A May 13 headline in the National Journal explained the politics of Mr. Hurley’s political demise: “Enviros Forced NHTSA Nominee to Withdraw.” This saga shows that even proponents of the nanny state take a back seat to greens in the Obama administration.

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