When the federal government announces new fuel economy standards for cars later this year here is something you’re unlikely to hear: “And by forcing companies to meet these new, arbitrary standards it will lead to smaller, lighter vehicles and thousands of people will die who otherwise would have lived.”
This is the dirty little secret of those who wish not simply to suggest but mandate car companies do away with larger vehicles to the greatest extent possible. Simply put, bigger vehicles save lives. “The death rate in 1-3-year-old minicars involved in multiple-vehicle crashes during 2007 was almost twice as high as the rate in very large cars,” according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. (Find a copy of the study here.)
Larger vehicles are particularly important for families who desire safety for their children. “The National Research Council concluded in 2002 that 1,300 to 2,600 additional crash deaths occurred in 1993 because of vehicle weight reductions to comply with federal standards,” notes the Insurance Institute. “Car size and weight are crucial to protecting people in crashes.” Particularly since at least half of crashes do not involve other vehicles, forcing more people to drive smaller cars would simply mean more deaths, beyond the impact of head-on collisions.
Sam Kazman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute points out the latest research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows SUVs (sport utility vehicles) over 4,500 pounds have a one-third lower death rate than cars below 2,500 pounds.
However, as the Wall Street Journal (July 7, 2011) reported, “Future U.S. government fuel economy regulations could saddle auto makers with steep fines or even bar the sale of certain models.” The Obama administration is planning to “roughly double the corporate average fuel economy from current fleet levels to 56.2 miles a gallon by 2025.” Phasing in the new rules would start within 6 years.
The federal government already fines auto companies for, in essence, selling cars that Americans want to buy, rather than meeting the preferences of what amounts to government overseers of the auto industry. Companies view these fines as the price of doing business. But the Wall Street Journal noted, “Bigger fines could significantly raise the cost of vehicles. And there is a chance car makers would not be able to sell in the U.S. their least-efficient models, typically large sedans or SUVs with eight-cylinder engines.”
Some argue these new standards are important for the environment. But economist Bjorn Lomberg has pointed out that even if everyone in America drove a Prius the environmental impact would be negligible.
Others argue the new rules would reduce our “dependence on foreign oil.” The problem with that argument is to the extent America is “dependent” on foreign oil, it’s only because Congress and the President have not supported greater exploration in the United States.
More importantly, it makes no sense to argue we need higher fuel economy standards to prevent oil imports. The “United States” does not import large amounts of oil as a government entity. Instead, the decision to buy gasoline for our cars is made by millions of consumers every day. If many consumers choose to spend their money on gas to fill up the tank of a larger vehicle, rather than spend the money on, for example, a new flat-screen TV, then that’s the business of individual Americans – not the federal government.
A good reason why a father or mother may wish to buy a larger vehicle is because they care about the lives of their children, and (obviously) care about them more than anyone who works in the Environmental Protection Agency.
Here is a suggestion for Congress: an amendment or bill that states the following: “New standards for fuel economy cannot go into effect unless it is demonstrated such standards are unlikely to increase traffic fatalities, including the deaths of child passengers.” That would make the tradeoff clear for all Americans.