That new car you just bought may be a threat to your health
- and even your life - thanks to Corporate Average Fuel Economy
(CAFE) standards. These federal rules are responsible for thousands
of needless deaths and injuries. Not only that, CAFE standards
make it difficult for many Americans to afford safe cars.
The CAFE program was established by Congress in 1975. Current
CAFE standards require motor vehicle manufacturers' fleets of
cars to average 27.5 miles per gallon of gasoline and their fleets
of light trucks (which include minivans and SUVs) to average 20.7
miles per gallon.1 The only affordable
way for automakers to meet these standards is to reduce the mass
and weight of their vehicles.2
This reduction has had deadly consequences. According to a
study by the National Research Council (NRC), reductions in vehicle
mass and weight necessary to meet CAFE standards increase the
risk of death or serious injury in crashes. The NRC study found
that vehicle downsizing and downweighting resulted in between
1,300 and 2,600 deaths and between 13,000 and 26,000 serious injuries
in 1993 alone.3 A USA Today report,
using data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,
estimated that 46,000 people - nearly as many Americans as lost
their lives in the Vietnam War - have died since 1975 as a result
of the vehicle downsizing and downweighting due to CAFE standards.4
CAFE standards have also been responsible for several hundred
thousand injuries. African-Americans should be particularly concerned
about these dangers because motor vehicle crashes are the leading
cause of death for black children.5
CAFE standards also make it harder for people to purchase cars.
To meet fuel efficiency requirements, automakers must sell a certain
number of small (read: fuel efficient) cars. But to induce consumers
to purchase these small cars, automakers must sell them at little
more than their production cost.6
To recover the profits lost through the sale of these small cars,
automakers must raise the prices of larger cars and light trucks.
In short, according to environmental policy expert Charli Coon
of The Heritage Foundation, "CAFE standards act as a tax
on larger, safer cars that is used in turn to subsidize sales
of smaller, less safe cars that get more miles per gallon."7
This de facto tax on larger cars and light trucks essentially
discriminates against people who have lower incomes, larger families,
need a larger vehicle or just want to own a safer car. African-Americans
are particularly affected, since their incomes tend to be lower
than those of whites.8
CAFE standards make today's small cars smaller than ever, making
them more dangerous than when the CAFE program was established
in 1975.9 Since smaller cars are
more dangerous, collision insurance for small cars is now more
expensive than for larger cars and light trucks. Small, cheap
cars also depreciate more quickly and can be easily damaged even
in minor accidents.10
In the 27 years since they were established, CAFE standards
have not only taken a toll on consumers' lives, health and wallets;
they have also failed to accomplish the goals for which they were
created - reducing U.S. gasoline consumption and dependence on
foreign oil. Since CAFE standards were established in 1975, oil
imports have increased from approximately 35 percent of supply
to 52 percent.11 Although fuel efficiency
has improved, this improvement has encouraged people to drive
more. Hence, CAFE has had little success in reducing overall fuel
CAFE is a failed government program that has had deadly and
costly consequences for thousands of Americans, and it places
those with lower incomes at particular risk. It's time to repeal
CAFE standards and put safety first.
Mary Katherine Ascik is a Research Associate of The National
Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington, D.C. think tank.
Comments may be sent to MAscik@nationalcenter.org.
1 Charli E. Coon, J.D., "Why The Government's
CAFE standards for Fuel Efficiency Should Be Repealed, Not Increased,"
Backgrounder #1458, The Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy
Studies, The Heritage Foundation, Washington, DC, downloaded from
http://www.heritage.org/library/backgrounder/bg1458.html on June
2 "Death By The Gallon," USA Today, July 2, 1999, downloaded
on June 5, 2002.
3 Effectiveness and Impact of Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE)
Standards, Committee on the Effectiveness and Impact of Corporate
Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards, Board on Energy and Environmental
Systems, Transportation Research Board, National Research Council,
National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC, downloaded from
http://books.nap.edu/books/0309076013/html/77.html on June 4,
4 "Death by the Gallon."
5 "The Facts To Buckle Up America: Seat Belts and African
Americans - 2000 Report," National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington,
DC, downloaded from http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/airbags/buckleplan/seatbeltsafro-american.index.html
on June 13, 2002.
6 "Death by the Gallon."
8 Tables H-3A and H-3B, "Historical Income Tables - Household,"
U.S. Census Bureau, U. S. Department of Commerce, Washington,
DC, downloaded from http://www.census.gov/hhes/income/histinc/h03ax1.html
and http://www.census.gov/hhes/income/histinc/h03bx1.html on June
9 "CAFE Standards Cost Lives," National Center for Policy
Analysis, Dallas, Texas, downloaded from http:/www.ncpa.org/pd/regulat/regf.html#F2
on June 5, 2002. (Original source cited as "Silent Killer,"
Investor's Business Daily, January 30, 1996.)
10 "Death by the Gallon" and "Downsizing Cars Kills"
National Center for Policy Analysis, Dallas, Texas, downloaded
from http://www.ncpa.org/pd/regulat/oct97d.html on June 5, 2002.
(Original source cited as Eric Peters, "Wake Up and Smell
the CAFE," Investor's Business Daily, October 28, 1997.)
12 "Environmental Briefing Book Issue Brief: Automobile Fuel
Economy Standards," Competitive Enterprise Institute, Washington,
DC, March 1, 1999, downloaded from http://www.cei.org/EBBReader.asp?ID=724
on June 10, 2002.