The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

24 December 2003

Doing a slow burn

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is seeking public comment on revising the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards. The most obvious comment, I think, is "What does fuel economy have to do with traffic safety?" Apart from the obvious laws-of-physics considerations — all else being equal, the heavier vehicle, while it uses more fuel, tends to come out better in a crash — the answer would seem to be "Not much."

The real problem for the government here is that they can't very well come out in favor of greater vehicle weight, because the Greener Than Thou folks who begrudge any use of fuel that doesn't strike their fancy will pitch the hissiest of fits, and if NHTSA should choose to embrace economy above all else, there will be hell to pay from the auto industry, which fears consumer rejection if they simplify and add lightness, and from the insurance industry, which fears anything that might cost them a dollar somewhere down the road.

The answer is hidden in their request for comments, but they don't really recognize it as an answer:

[W]e intend to preserve the ability of consumers to obtain vehicles that meet their needs, while providing competitive equity among vehicle manufacturers, improving vehicle safety, and enhancing fuel economy.

The simplest way to do this is to dump the entire concept of CAFE, which so far has produced far more pages of regulation than gallons of gas. If it is necessary to, um, persuade consumers to buy fuel-efficient vehicles, a proposition rather difficult to defend without falling back on "Because we said so," the most direct approach is to increase the tax on fuel. This puts the decision into the hands of the individual, where it rightfully belongs. If J. Random Driver still wants a Ford Excrescence or whatever that will cost him $100 every fillup, that should be his issue — not yours, not mine, not Washington's, and not the Sierra Club's.

Posted at 2:19 PM to Driver's Seat , Family Joules


The whole idea of putting it in the hand of the consumer is that we feel it does not adequatley show the false care that our government needs to. Gas taxes could criple the economy which is reluctant to change.

We do not have leaders with balls enough to implement your idea of just raising the taxes. Plus if we solved the problem then we would have nothing to talk about.

I also think you missed one of the largest players, the oil companies. Go consumption!!!

Posted by: aaron wall at 2:32 PM on 24 December 2003

Speaking of fuel tax, Senator Robert Milacek is going to introduce a bill to raise the fuel tax in OK, with the proceeds to go toward repairing roads and bridges. I'm curious to see how far it goes.

Posted by: Goof Beyou at 4:00 PM on 24 December 2003

Well, God knows we need roads and bridges repaired; even our good surfaces suck. (And I speak as someone who has to go over the freaking Belle Isle Bridge daily now.)

Posted by: CGHill at 4:04 PM on 24 December 2003

OT: Merry Christmas!

Posted by: McGehee at 4:24 AM on 25 December 2003