Congress, Toyota, and CAFE Standards

Congress excoriated Toyota executives over recent safety issues even though Congress is responsible for killing far more Americans in car crashes, via the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) program it enacted into law. The auto deaths of tens of thousands of Americans can be attributed to Congress's action. 

The number of deaths attributed to Toyota safety issues equates to two per year for the past ten years.  On average, there are 40,000 automobile deaths per year, so the death rate related to Toyota safety issues is .005%.  A mere pittance compared to the deaths attributed to CAFE standards.

The federal government enacted CAFE standards in 1975 as a response to American dependence on foreign oil and gasoline consumption.  The power-hungry control mongers on Capital Hill regulate the automobile industry requiring companies to meet minimum fuel efficiency standards for all classes of automobiles and trucks.  Meanwhile, those standards negatively impact free markets and increase costs which are passed onto consumers while endangering our families.  Undoubtedly, Congress and environmental activists view CAFE related deaths as acceptable losses because, in theory, it reduces the environmental impact or reduces our dependency on foreign oil.

According to a 2006 report by Ryan Bilas of the National Center for Public Policy Research several studies demonstrate the cost in human lives due to CAFE standards:

  • According to a 2001 National Academy of Sciences panel, smaller and lighter vehicle production resulted in an additional 1,300 to 2,600 traffic fatalities in 1993.
  • A 1999 USA Today analysis of crash data found that since CAFE went into effect in 1978, 46,000 people died in crashes they otherwise would have survived. That equates to roughly 7,700 deaths for every mile per gallon gained in fuel economy standards.
  • A 1989 Harvard-Brookings study estimated CAFE to be responsible for 2,200 to 3,900 excess occupant deaths over ten years. It also estimated between 11,000 and 19,500 occupants would suffer serious injury due to these standards.
  • The same study found CAFE has resulted in a 500 pound weight reduction on the average car.
  • Lastly, passengers in smaller, lighter cars die at a rate 12 times that of people driving larger, heavier cars.
To meet increased fuel efficiency standards, automobile manufactures reduced vehicle weight.  There is a direct relationship between vehicle weight and passenger deaths and injuries.  The Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) studied the relationship of vehicle weight to fatality and injury risk and found: 

  • A 1.1% increase in fatalities per 100 pound decrease in vehicle weight.
  • A 1.6% increase in serious or moderate injuries per 100 pound decrease in vehicle weight.
  • Between 1975 and 1985 fuel efficiency doubled while the average curb weight was reduced by 1000 pounds. NHTSA concluded the downsizing resulted in 2,000 additional deaths and 20,000 additional serious or moderate injuries.
  • The study concludes... "The Office of Technology Assessment of the United States Congress, the National Safety Council, the Brookings Institution, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the General Motors Research Laboratories and the National Academy of Sciences all agreed that reductions in the size and weight of passenger cars pose a safety threat."
Congress has the audacity to investigate Toyota Motor Corporation for roughly 20 deaths over a 10 year time horizon.  Meanwhile, Congress is directly responsible for enacting legislation that has killed tens of thousands of Americans.  Who is investigating Congress?  Where is the outrage from the mainstream media?

Perhaps there is a conflict of interest, as the United States government has an ownership stake in General Motors.  The federal government could ensure GM's success by creating marketplace issues for GM's competitors.  The timing is convenient.  Stranger things have happened.

CAFE standards have failed to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.  Oil imports have increased from 35% of consumption in the mid 1970s to over 50% this past decade. Additionally, as fuel efficiency has improved, driving has increased, offsetting any gains in fuel efficiency.  Of course, there is a direct cost to the consumer as government regulations require automobile manufactures to invest in research and development to find ways to increase fuel efficiency.  Moreover, civil penalties paid by automobile manufacturers for non-compliance to CAFE standards are passed onto consumers as well.  According to the NHSTA automobile manufactures have paid $654 million in civil penalties since 1983 for failing to meet CAFE standards. 

As a public policy, CAFE standards are an abysmal failure.  As far as human life is concerned the program is a tragedy.  Government interference and regulation in the free-market kills Americans. 

Is this the government our founding fathers envisioned?  Buckle up.