"President Obama's decision to increase fuel efficiency standards (CAFE) to 35.5 mpg for cars and light trucks by 2016 is trumpeted as a victory for consumers and the environment. But if car buyers are so thrilled, why would the government have to mandate higher-mileage cars in the first place?
"As even the Obama administration concedes, higher CAFE standards will mean a higher sticker prices (about $1,200 per car), which will work against the goal of bringing newer, more efficient cars to the road. Professor Robert N. Stavins, director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program, explains: 'CAFE increases the price of new cars, and thereby keeps existing cars on the road longer. The existing cars are dirtier and less fuel-efficient. This counterproductive effect is typical of any vintage-differentiated-regulation.'
"On balance, when forced to buy higher mileage cars, the record also shows that the public adapts by driving more miles rather than walk or simply not taking a given trip. Since CAFE was established 34 years ago, the number of miles driven by the average car has risen 50% -- even as the number of cars owned by Americans has also grown faster than the population. No wonder CAFE is associated with little or no real impact on gasoline usage.
"A bigger problem is that more stringent CAFE standards make cars less safe to drive and increase road deaths. 'CAFE is among the deadliest government regulations we have,' says Competitive Enterprise Institute General Counsel Sam Kazman. He adds the morbid detail that raising fuel efficiency standards 'kills consumers by reducing vehicle size, and now it may well kill car companies by forcing them to produce cars that consumers don't want.' One 2002 study by the National Research Council shows that CAFE in the past has added roughly 2,000 road deaths per year.
"What might seem inexplicable is that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an agency supposedly in the business of reducing auto fatalities, is fully on-board with the Obama small-car agenda. Actually it's not so inexplicable: Chuck Hurley, most recently the head of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, abruptly withdrew his nomination to head NHTSA last week under pressure from environmentalists. His crime was having made statements in the past acknowledging CAFE's impact in increasing traffic deaths."
-- Stephen Moore, Wall Street Journal