Another, far worse consequence of the skyrocketing mileage requirements is that many cars will need to be made smaller, lighter, and with thinner metal and more plastic, to achieve the new “corporate average fleet economy” (CAFÉ) standards.
These vehicles – even with seatbelts, air bags and expensive vehicle modifications – will not be as safe as they would be if mileage weren’t a major consideration. They will have less “armor” to protect drivers and passengers, and less space between vehicle occupants and whatever car, truck, bus, wall, tree or embankment their car might hit.
The NHTSA, Brookings Institution, Harvard School of Public Health, National Academy of Sciences and USA Today discovered a shocking reality. Even past and current mileage standards have resulted in thousands of additional fatalities, and tens of thousands of serious injuries, every year – above what would have happened if the government had not imposed those standards.
They also learned that drivers in lightweight cars were up to twelve times more likely to die in a crash – and far more likely to suffer serious injury and permanent disabilities.
Increasing mileage requirements by a whopping 19 mpg above current rules will make nearly all cars even less safe than they are today.
For obvious reasons, most legislators, regulators and environmental activists have not wanted to discuss these issues. But they need to do so, before existing mileage requirements are made even more stringent.
These affordability and safety problems may be unintended. However, no government officials – elected or unelected – can claim they are unaware of them.
Finally, the asserted goals of CAFÉ standards may once have been somewhat persuasive. The standards were necessary, it was argued, to preserve US oil reserves that were rapidly being depleted, reduce oil imports from unstable parts of the world, and prevent dangerous global warming. However, the rationales used to justify these onerous, unfair, injurious and lethal mileage standards are no longer persuasive.
New seismic, drilling and production technologies have dramatically increased our nation’s oil and natural gas reserves. Opening some of the publicly owned lands that are currently off limits would increase reserves even more. Using government and industry data, the Institute for Energy Research has calculated that the USA, Canada and Mexico alone have 1.7 trillion barrels of recoverable oil reserves – enough to meet current US needs for another 250 years – and another 175 years of natural gas.
As to global warming, even the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is now backing away from previous claims about alarming changes in global temperatures, sea levels, polar ice caps and major storms, due to greenhouse gas emissions.
All of us should conserve energy and be responsible stewards of the Earth and its bounties, which God has given us. However, to ignore the unpleasant realities of existing and proposed mileage mandates is unethical, immoral and unjust.
We must not emphasize fuel savings at the cost of excluding poor families from the automobile market – and putting people at greater risk of serious injury or death.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.