On the David Strom Show on March 22, Americans for Tax Reform head Grover Norquist angrily attacked the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, signed into law in December by President Bush to slowly raise fuel economy standards to 35 MPG by 2020. Norquist alleged that these standards are killing 2,000 people each year:
The government itself has calculated that around 2000 people a year are killed because of those CAFÉ standards and our cheerful government has just voted to increase them, to make cars lighter, smaller. And more people will die. I mean 2,000 people a year die because the environmentalists think that you should be in a smaller car because it offends their sensitivities that you’re using gasoline.
Norquist seems to be referring to the 2002 National Academies report Effectiveness and Impact of Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards, which states, “[A]ll but two members of the committee concluded that the downweighting and downsizing that occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s, some of which was due to CAFE standards, probably resulted in an additional 1,300 to 2,600 traffic fatalities in 1993.” The report explains the reasoning:
Although many general indicators of motor vehicle travel safety improved during [the 1970s and early 1980s] (e.g., the fatality rate per vehicle mile traveled), the preponderance of evidence indicates that this downsizing of the vehicle fleet resulted in a hidden safety cost, namely, travel safety would have improved even more had vehicles not been downsized. . . When asked about the potential use of lighter material to allow weight reduction without safety-related size reductions, … industry representatives did not expect that they could avoid reducing vehicle size if substantial reductions in vehicle weight were made. . . The committee recognizes that automakers’ responses could be biased in this regard.
The relationships between vehicle weight and safety are complex and not measurable with any reasonable degree of certainty at present. The relationship of fuel economy to safety is even more tenuous.
Evidently, Norquist is more concerned by hypothetically projected deaths in an alternate universe where Detroit adopts safety instruments like air bags and rollover standards without kicking and screaming, than he is by the very real casualties to our economy, our soldiers, our nation, and our planet caused by our addiction to fossil fuels.
The American people, regardless of party, overwhelmingly recognize that higher fuel standards spur technological innovation and improve our lives.
NORQUIST: But when they pass those CAFÉ standards, corporate average fuel economy standards, which mandate that cars all get an average of 20 or 30 miles to the gallon. Which means less metal in your car, more plastic in your car and higher death tolls when people run into trees. The government itself has calculated that around 2000 people a year are killed because of those CAFÉ standards and our cheerful government has just voted to increase them. To make cars lighter, smaller and more people will die. I mean 2000 people a year die because the environmentalists think that you should be in a smaller car because it offends their sensitivities that you’re using gasoline. If they don’t want to use gasoline, that’s fine, but they have the right to tell lower income people, you can’t afford a larger, safer car.