Posts Tagged ‘pollution’

0409_smartcar01There has been much in the news lately over the Obama administrations proposed changes to CAFE legislation, raising the mpg standards on autos to 35 mpg from the current 27.5 mpg.  This provokes an interesting dilemma though.  The main way to reduce fuel consumption in autos is by making them lighter, and thus smaller.  I’m sure you have all seen the SMART car on the road and been amazed at how tiny it is… and joked about seeing that go head-to-head with a truck.  Well:

Researchers at Harvard University and the Brookings Institution found that, on average, for every 100 pounds shaved off new cars to meet CAFE standards, between 440 and 780 additional people were killed in auto accidents…

In 2002 USA Today estimated “that size and weight reductions of passenger vehicles undertaken to meet current CAFE standards had resulted in more than 46,000 deaths”.  And CEI points out that:

The death rate in minis in multi-vehicle crashes is almost twice as high as that of large cars. And in single-vehicle crashes, where there’s no oversized second vehicle to blame, the difference is even greater: Passengers in minis suffered three times as many deaths as in large cars. 

So what are these deaths a trade-off for?  The argument is to reduce pollution (global warming) and also to reduce our reliance on foreign oil.  The argument for pollution reduction is fairly useful, as any Los Angeleno can attest to, having seen the skies and air quality improve.  The argument for reliance on foreign energy… not so much.  CAFE was first enacted in 1974 during the Carter administration and it’s difficulties with oil from Iran, however:

Since 1974, domestic new car fuel economy has increased 114 percent, and light truck fuel economy has increased 56 percent. Yet over this same period, imported oil has risen from 35 percent of the oil consumed in the U. S. in 1974 to more than 52 percent today [2002].

But even regardless of whether the arguments hold up, there can be a debate about whether human lives are more important than pollution or foreign oil.  Certainly pollution can cause deaths, so a comparison can be made there to see what is the lesser evil.  Reliance on foreign oil has obviously got us entangled in all matter of problems over the years and currently… so can you measure the human lives against those problems?  It’s an interesting dilemma as I said, and one that I don’t claim to have a solid answer for, since there are so many variables.  

One thing is clear though, and it has been stated here a few times, is that legislation almost always has unintended consequences.  It’s one thing if people choose a smaller car to save money and fuel, and put their own safety at risk.  It is another when congress passes mandates to manufacturers that ensures that we ALL will have to drive smaller and more dangerous cars.


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