Trump Administration Claims Obama's Fuel Economy Rules Could Kill 12,000 More Americans

Cheaper gas and more fuel-efficient cars would cause more traffic deaths, claims the Trump Administration.

Chris Kleponis/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

As part of its continuing argument to roll back Obama-era fuel economy standards, the Trump Administration now claims that people would drive their more economical cars more and expose themselves to more risk of crashes, reported the Associated Press.

According to The New York Times, Jeffrey A. Rosen, a former George W. Bush administration official known for his zeal to undo federal regulations, and Heidi King, the deputy administrator of the Transportation Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, back an analysis showing that the Trump proposal would save lives in car accidents. This analysis shows that the Obama rules would lead to as many as 12,000 more traffic fatalities.

The problem, claims the Trump Administration, is two-fold. First, superior fuel economy would mean that consumers would pay less to fill their gas tanks, encouraging them to drive more than they already do, and putting themselves at more risk by being on the road more. Second, more fuel-efficient cars that meet the Obama plan's goals would be made of more lightweight materials and therefore not protect their occupants as well in the event of a crash.

"Allow me to be skeptical," Giorgio Rizzoni, an engineering professor and director of the Center for Automotive Research at Ohio State University, told the Associated Press. "To say that safety is a direct result of somehow freezing the fuel economy mandate for a few years, I think that’s a stretch."

Some government organizations aren't entirely on board with the Trump Administration's statements. Luke Tonachel, director of the clean-vehicle program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the risk from people driving more due to higher mileage is "tiny and maybe even negligible."

While the laws of physics would indicate that in a crash between a large car and a small car the small car would fare worse, it's not quite that simple. Lightweight materials such as aluminum can be as strong as steel while weighing significantly less. Additionally, the proliferation of airbags all over vehicle interiors helps to keep passengers safe in even the least expensive modern cars.

It appears that the EPA acting administrator Andrew Wheeler may not entirely agree with the analysis either, despite the agency, under then-administrator Scott Pruitt, being at the forefront of the fight against the Obama-era fuel economy standards. According to the Associated Press, Wheeler told a small group of reporters at EPA headquarters last week that "I think we need to go where the technology takes us" when asked if he thinks a freeze in U.S. mileage standards is warranted. EPA spokespeople did not respond when asked if Wheeler was saying that cars can be both fuel-efficient and safe, contrary to the Trump Administration's claims.

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