Study: Higher Fuel-economy Standards Wont Hurt Vehicle Safety

by : Iver Penn

A new study released at a major policy briefing by the International Council on Clean Transportation has found that a significant increase in fuel-economy standards for vehicles is achievable without affecting vehicle safety. The study is critical especially now that Congress is mulling over making changes in the America's motor vehicle fuel economy requirements, known as Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.

"As nations around the world consider new standards to improve fuel economy or lower greenhouse gas emissions from passenger vehicles, it's important to address a common misperception that passenger safety is inevitably compromised as fuel standards are strengthened," said Drew Kodjak, executive director of the International Council on Clean Transportation. "This debate only exists in the United States, and this report settles that debate once and for all."

The study, "Sipping Fuel and Saving Lives: Increasing Fuel Economy without Sacrificing Safety," was written by Deborah Gordon, a transportation policy consultant; David L. Greene, a fuel-economy policy expert; Marc H. Ross, emeritus professor of physics at the University of Michigan; and Tom P. Wenzel, of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Among the study's key findings is that manufacturers can use advanced materials to increase both fuel economy and safety without reducing a vehicle's functionality. The study also found that reducing the weight and height of the heaviest SUVs and pickup trucks will simultaneously increase both their fuel economy and overall safety.
"The public, automakers, and policymakers have long worried about trade-offs between increased fuel economy in motor vehicles and reduced safety. The conclusion of a broad group of experts on safety and fuel economy in the auto sector is that no trade-off is required," the study concludes. "There are a wide variety of technologies and approaches available to advance vehicle fuel economy that have no effect on vehicle safety."

The study's authors concluded that:

&bull Most technologies to increase fuel economy do not affect safety; most technologies to increase safety do not affect fuel economy.

&bull Reducing car mass while improving vehicle structure, using advanced materials and designs, can simultaneously increase fuel economy and safety.

&bull Reducing the weight and improving the structure of truck-based SUVs and pickups can increase their fuel economy and improve the safety of all vehicles on the road.
According to the authors, existing technology options can improve light-duty vehicle fuel economy by up to 50 percent over the next 10 years without reducing the weight or size of vehicles. Any extra cost associated with the auto-manufacturing changes would be more than offset by savings generated by more fuel-efficient vehicles. Well if automakers can spend gallantly on improving their car's exterior looks and auto parts (like , for instance) - surely a bid on improving fuel economy will be worth the investment too.
"As the research makes clear, with smart engineering there's no reason to choose between safety and fuel efficiency in automotive design," said Hal Harvey, director of the environmental program at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which convened the gathering that led to the report. "Now it's up to policy makers to provide the regulatory environment to encourage it to happen."

Here are the recommendations for policy makers from the study:

&bull Set fuel economy and safety performance goals at cost-effective levels, and allow adequate time for phase-in of vehicle redesigns.

&bull Develop short-term goals that use existing technological potential and long-term goals to spur continued innovation.

&bull Apply the same fuel economy and safety standards consistently to all vehicle types (cars, SUVs, and pickups).

&bull Encourage driver behavior that improves fuel economy or safety - e.g. seat belt use or reduced driving speeds.

An October 2006 policy workshop that brought together experts in vehicle safety and fuel efficiency from academia, research organizations, government, advocacy groups and the auto-manufacturing industry helped make up the authors' conclusions. The workshop enabled researchers to share most recent evidence on fuel economy and safety, including important peer-reviewed studies published since the National Academy of Sciences' 2002 report on fuel economy standards.

About the International Council on Clean Transportation
The goal of the International Council on Clean Transportation is to dramatically improve the environmental performance and efficiency of cars, trucks, buses, and transportation systems in order to protect and improve public health, the environment, and quality of life.

The Hewlett Foundation, which provided support for the report, makes grants to address the most serious social and environmental problems facing society, where risk capital, responsibly invested, may make a difference over time. The Foundation places a high value on sustaining and improving institutions that make positive contributions to society.

The full study and an executive summary are available at