In light of the Obama campaign falsely accusing Republican hopeful Mitt Romney of being responsible for a steel worker’s wife’s death, I thought it would be appropriate to look at some legislation that has actually caused Americans to lose their lives. The Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards (CAFE) are some of the most guilty pieces of legislation in that regard. While the out-of-control Environmental Protection Agency has fought tirelessly to save the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard from oil drilling, they’ve done so while simultaneously promoting more fuel efficient, dangerous cars. As a result of excessive government intervention, the American automobile industry faces the threat of extinction.

The CAFE standards were first enacted by Congress in 1975. Their stated purpose was to improve the average fuel economy of passenger cars and light trucks. It sounded like a very good idea, but as Milton Friedman once stated, “one of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.” The CAFE standards require a manufacturer’s entire fleet of vehicles conform to an average mile-per-gallon efficiency. For the year 2020, the government has decided that 35 miles per gallon will be that threshold. Any manufacturer that does not meet the efficiency requirements will be penalized $5.50 per 0.1 mpg under the standard for each vehicle they produce that year. In addition, any car that the government deems to be a gas guzzler (averaging less than 22mpg) is also hit with a gas guzzler tax, despite the fact that a manufacturer could still meet its fleet wide efficiency standard by selling this vehicle.

To prevent the burdensome taxes from killing them, the automotive industry is forced to shift the effects of the forced mileage standards to the consumers. With a technological inability to completely redesign all of their engines to achieve these new standards, the manufactures have begun to shave the weight of their cars by as much as 40%. While it is a great way to save on gas, it is also much more dangerous in the event of an accident. It is simple physics. By reducing the size and weight of vehicles (mass), the accidents will be worse; And the numbers prove it. In a 2002 study of the CAFE standards by the National Academy of Sciences, they found that there would have been between “1,300 and 2,600 fewer crash deaths in 1993 had the average weight and size of the light duty motor vehicle fleet in that year been like that of the mid 1970’s” when CAFE standards were first implemented. In other words, these additional “deaths and injuries were one of the painful trade-offs that resulted from downweighting and downsizing and the resultant improved fuel economy.” At the time of the survey, it was also reported that “46,000 people have died in crashes that they would have survived in bigger, heavier cars.” I suspect that these 2002 numbers are a little outdated as well, and will only continue to rise as cars get lighter. Earlier this month, Mazda announced that it would be putting its fleet on a diet by reducing the weight of every new model by 220 pounds. They cite the need to achieve a “30% improvement in the corporate fuel economy average by 2015.”

While some environmental activists are certainly sincere in their thoughts and actions, the Marxists embrace the ideas of radical environmentalism because it enables them to do things that otherwise wouldn’t be justifiable. They despise of the automobile because it allows the individual to exercise their freedom and mobility. Whatever they can do to limit the use of it, they will. As we speak, many states are considering a pay-per-mile tax that would charge individuals for every mile that they drive. While the stated benefit is to rebuild roads and bridges, it has a supplemental benefit in that it will discourage people from driving as much as they’d like to. Another reason the government provides for instituting the pay-per-mile tax is that they no longer receive as much revenue from the gasoline tax. Why? Because they say cars are too fuel efficient.

So, Congress is the real killer here. They pass legislation that signs the death certificates of an extra 1,300 to 2,600 Americans each year and the resultant fuel economy increase is viewed as an overwhelming success. CAFE standards cause 15x as many deaths each year as food allergies, yet we keep the pedal to the metal in trying to create as much fuel efficiency as possible. The bottom line is that for the environmental nut jobs, no price is too high when it comes to “saving” the environment. Not even 46,000 American lives.

Jeffrey Max | Texas Wesleyan University | @JeffreyMaxxx