CAFE Standards Increases Would Be a Lose-Lose Proposition for People and the Environment, by Pearse M. Frazier

BACKGROUND: A leaked draft of the upcoming National Academy of Sciences report on Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards re-ignites an old debate over the wisdom of having and raising federally-imposed fuel economy standards. Environmental groups, some media and many representatives support raising the CAFE standards, especially for SUVs and light trucks, which have increased in popularity in recent years.

TEN SECOND RESPONSE: Increased CAFE standards will weaken the economy and cause additional traffic fatalities, yet do nothing to help the environment.

THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: The only significant way to meet raised CAFE standards is by reducing the weight of vehicles, which makes vehicles dramatically more dangerous for passengers. Studies have shown that federally-forced higher average fuel efficiency encourages more people to drive on their own, rather than use public transport or other alternatives, creating an overall increase, not decrease, in energy use.

DISCUSSION: Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that an estimated 302 additional people die in auto accidents for every 100 pounds cut from the average car weight (see The insurance industry estimates that, to meet some of the proposed CAFE standards hikes, SUVs alone would have to shed 2,000 pounds, with an estimated 90% increase in fatality risk in accidents (see

A 1996 study funded by the Department of Transportation argues that raising the CAFE standards increases the tendency towards single occupancy driving because driving becomes less expensive. This increases overall gasoline usage, and increases the cost of public transportation as it attempts to offer more amenities to compete with private single occupancy vehicles (

Finally, the supposed danger of CO2 emissions, which CAFE standards are designed to reduce, remains questionable. While cleaner fuels make for cleaner air, particularly in crowded cities, changing fuel consumption levels may have no influence on climate change.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: For more information on how CAFE standards cost lives, read National Policy Analysis #256, “Raising Sports Utility Vehicle Fuel Efficiency Standards Would Kill Americans,” by David Ridenour, at

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.