July 11, 2001

July 11, 2001 | News Releases on Regulation

MPG Standards Should Be Repealed, Not Tightened, Analyst Says

WASHINGTON, Jul. 11, 2001-Federal fuel-economy standards for motor vehicles should be "consigned to the junkyard of failed federal policy," says a new paper from The Heritage Foundation.

The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) program, created by Congress in 1975 as a response to the Arab oil embargo, was designed to conserve gasoline and cut U.S. dependence on oil imports. It has failed on both counts, says Charli Coon, Heritage's senior policy analyst for energy and environment. Worse, she says, the program exposes American motorists to a greater risk of death and injury.

Though CAFE standards (currently 27.5 miles per gallon for passenger cars and 20.7 mpg for light trucks) have improved average fuel efficiency by nearly 50 percent, they haven't cut gas consumption, Coon writes. That's because, during that same period, people doubled their average number of miles driven-off-setting the gains made in efficiency.

As for lessening America's dependence on foreign oil, Coon notes, the numbers speak for themselves. At the onset of the 1973 oil embargo, America imported 35 percent of its oil. Today, 52 percent comes from foreign suppliers, a situation that two congressional panels have declared a national security risk.

Meanwhile, Coon notes, vehicle manufacturers have replaced the sturdy steel construction techniques of the pre-CAFE era with lightweight material that makes it possible to reach the program's efficiency standards. Indeed, the average American car today weighs 23 percent less than typical 1975 models.

Unfortunately, smaller, lighter cars provide far less protection in a crash. A 1999 safety analysis concluded that 46,000 post-CAFE vehicle deaths would have been avoided if the victims had been in the heavier autos of a generation ago. That's about 7,700 unnecessary deaths for each mile-per-gallon increase notched under the CAFE standards, Coon notes.

Despite the program's evident failures in the arena of energy conservation and self-sufficiency-and its less-obvious traffic safety costs-the recent spike in energy prices has sparked renewed calls to ratchet CAFÉ standards even higher. Some members of Congress support legislative efforts to do just that.

Coon's recommendation? "Back off. Stop defending the failed CAFÉ program and start valuing human lives by repealing the standards."

About the Author

Related Issues: Regulation