July 28, 2003
Boosting Fuel Economy Would Increase Highway Safety; Lawmakers Should Act Now
Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook
Congress this week has the opportunity to do more to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and make our highways safer than it has done for many years. Lawmakers have a chance to do this by voting to boost fuel economy – a critically needed action, given that the fuel economy for vehicles on the nation’s roads has steadily declined since 1988 – in large part due to the proliferation of SUVs.
One measure to be considered, offered by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), would require all passenger vehicles up to 10,000 pounds, which includes most SUVs, to meet a fuel economy standard of 27.5 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2011. The second measure, offered by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), would increase fuel economy standards for passenger cars, SUVs and minivans to 40 mpg by 2015 and increase fuel economy standards for pickup trucks to 27.5 mpg. Currently, cars must get 27.5 mpg, while SUVs must get 20.7 mpg.
Lawmakers engaged in a similar debate over fuel economy standards last year and did virtually nothing. Now, though, we have new facts that put this debate in a different light.
We now know that in addition to bringing down the nation’s overall fuel economy, SUVs are threatening the major achievements we have made in highway safety over the past 30 years because they are driving up highway fatalities. Last year, SUV and pickup truck rollover deaths accounted for 46 percent of the increase in all vehicle occupant fatalities and 78 percent of the increase in passenger vehicle rollover fatalities, according to recently released government data. Further, the disparity in size and weight between SUVs and passenger cars compromises safety; larger, heavier vehicles exact an enormous toll on smaller, lighter vehicles.
Automakers have the technology to make safer, more fuel-efficient SUVs, and consumers want them to. Our campaign at www.bettersuv.org is a listening post for hundreds of consumers who say that they want a better, safer, cleaner SUV. Congress must act. Requiring manufacturers to make SUVs more fuel-efficient not only will save gas and ease pollution, but will boost safety by reducing the weight of the largest SUVs – thereby making them more compatible with passenger vehicles – and using technology to boost fuel economy in smaller vehicles. We urge Congress to take this critical step.
Joan Claybrook is former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.