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CAFE carnage: Death by fuel economy standards

Steve BucksteinQuickPoint!

Dozens of Oregonians are killed every year by fuel economy standards on new cars. The situation may soon get even worse.

The federal government’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards impose average mile per gallon (mpg) requirements on every automaker’s yearly output of new cars. The current standard is 27.5 mpg for passenger cars. Light trucks, including Sport Utility Vehicles and minivans, fall under a less stringent standard-for now.

Downsizing vehicles is often the best way to boost fuel economy. However, smaller cars are less crashworthy than similarly equipped large cars. This is true for practically every type of accident, from multiple-car collisions to single-vehicle rollovers.

The National Academy of Sciences and The Brookings Institution have each individually found that CAFE standards result in traffic fatalities. New research from the Competitive Enterprise Institute estimates that CAFE was responsible for 2,500 to 4,400 deaths nationwide in 2000, and that 27 to 47 of those deaths occurred in Oregon. Raising the standard to 40 mpg, as some in Congress want, would kill an estimated 1,100 additional Americans every year, 12 of which would be in Oregon.

More Americans are now buying SUVs and light trucks for safety reasons, particularly in rural areas where travel is more extensive, at higher speeds, and on less safe roads. If passenger cars are subject to stricter CAFE standards, SUVs will become even more popular. Instead of reducing our choices further, Congress should let each of us make responsible decisions about our use of energy and the safety of our families.

Steve Buckstein is senior policy analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland, Oregon based think tank.

© 2006, Cascade Policy Institute. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and Cascade Policy Institute are cited. Contact Cascade at (503) 242-0900 to arrange print or broadcast interviews on this topic. For more topics visit the QuickPoint! archive.

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