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Argument: Vehicle fuel economy standards can increase vehicle deaths

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Charli E. Coon, J.D. "Why the Government's CAFE Standards for Fuel Efficiency Should Be Repealed, not Increased". Heritage Foundation. 11 July 2001 - HOW CAFE INCREASES RISKS TO MOTORISTS

The evidence is overwhelming that CAFE standards result in more highway deaths. A 1999 USA TODAY analysis of crash data and estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that, in the years since CAFE standards were mandated under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975, about 46,000 people have died in crashes that they would have survived if they had been traveling in bigger, heavier cars. 5 This translates into 7,700 deaths for every mile per gallon gained by the standards. 6

While CAFE standards do not mandate that manufacturers make small cars, they have had a significant effect on the designs manufacturers adopt--generally, the weights of passenger vehicles have been falling. Producing smaller, lightweight vehicles that can perform satisfactorily using low-power, fuel-efficient engines is the most affordable way for automakers to meet the CAFE standards.

More than 25 years ago, research established that drivers of larger, heavier cars have lower risks in crashes than do drivers of smaller, lighter cars. 7 A 2000 study by Leonard Evans, now the president of the Science Serving Society in Michigan, found that adding a passenger to one of two identical cars involved in a two-car frontal crash reduces the driver fatality risk by 7.5 percent. 8 If the cars differ in mass by more than a passenger's weight, adding a passenger to the lighter car will reduce total risk. 9

The Evans findings reinforce a 1989 study by economists Robert Crandall of the Brookings Institution and John Graham of the Harvard School of Public Health, who found that the weight of the average American automobile has been reduced 23 percent since 1974, much of this reduction a result of CAFE regulations. 10 Crandall and Graham stated that "the negative relationship between weight and occupant fatality risk is one of the most secure findings in the safety literature." 11

Harvard University's John Graham reiterated the safety risks of weight reduction in correspondence with then-U.S. Senator John Ashcroft (R-MO) in June 2000. Graham was responding to a May 2000 letter distributed to Members of the House from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and the Center for Auto Safety. 12 Graham sought to correct its misleading statements, such as its discussion of weight reduction as a compliance strategy without reference to the safety risks associated with the use of lighter steel. For example, an SUV may be more likely to roll over if it is constructed with lighter materials, and drivers of vehicles that crash into guardrails are generally safer when their vehicle contains more mass rather than less. Further, according to Graham, government studies have found that making small cars heavier has seven times the safety benefit than making light trucks lighter.

Frederick W. Smith and P.X. Kelley. "Improved fuel economy standards are critical to America’s security and prosperity". The Hill. 5 Jul. 2007 - The evidence clearly shows that smaller cars have significant disadvantages in crashes. They have less space to absorb crash forces. The less the car absorbs, the more the people inside the vehicle must absorb. Consequently, the weight and size reductions resulting from the CAFE standards are linked with the 46,000 deaths through 1998 mentioned above, as well as thousands of injuries. It is time that policymakers stop defending the failed CAFE program and start valuing human lives by repealing the standards.

CAFE standards already result in the deaths of approximately 2,000 Americans every year, since smaller cars are less crashworthy. By failing to acknowledge this in their policymaking, Congress has cost thousands of Americans their lives. Now Congress is poised to compound the dangers by raising CAFE standards still further -- so much so, it may kill the domestic auto industry itself.

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