Before the standards, small cars were a pretty small portion of the total car market. Thus, when cars crashed, they were commonly of equal size and weight. A disparity grew between vehicles, however, as some former sedan drivers switched to compacts and subcompacts, while others shifted to trucks, minivans and SUVs.
The laws of physics don’t change. In a crash, larger and heavier is better than lighter and smaller. With comparable safety equipment, occupants of small cars do worse than people in larger sedans, minivans or SUVs in every kind of accident, insurance data show. Naturally, environmentalists don’t like to talk about this.
In the late 2000s, in response to high gas prices, some drivers abandoned their trucks and SUVs for smaller vehicles with greater fuel efficiency. Environmentalists were thrilled. Now, with gas prices falling, drivers cheer, but environmentalists are up in arms.
The activists now argue people should drive small vehicles not to defund Middle East tyrants, but to prevent global warming. Problem is, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Academy of Sciences have found shifting to more fuel-efficient cars will not prevent or even slow purported global warming.
EPA estimates U.S. car and light-truck emissions make up, at most, 1.5 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, if everyone bought 40-mpg cars, greenhouse gases would decline by less than a negligible 0.5 percent.
A National Academy of Sciences study found higher Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards would only shift greenhouse gas emissions from the tailpipe to the factory, because vehicles using lighter-weight materials (such as aluminum, plastics or composites) require increased indirect energy consumption from the production of substitute materials, thus offsetting any decreases of greenhouse gas emissions achieved through fuel efficiency.
If social conscience is the driving force in your purchasing decisions, and high fuel economy floats your boat, you are free to buy electric, hybrid or clean diesel vehicles. If comfort, power and the ability to haul a boat or ferry a soccer team is your goal, you should be free to get the large, powerful vehicle that fits your needs.
The moral of the story: Choose the car you want. The life you save may be your own, and the planet won’t care!
H. Sterling Burnett is a research fellow with the Heartland Institute.