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White House says lower fuel-economy standards would keep drivers safer

The unusual logic is the latest volley in an attempt to overturn Obama-era rules.

Jon Wong/Roadshow

The Trump administration has a new and rather surprising argument as to why Obama-era fuel-efficiency rules should be rolled back. Doing so, the White House claims, would keep American drivers safer.

According to The Associated Press, a new draft of policy proposals says that if vehicles return lower fuel economy, people will drive less, thus keeping them from getting into as many car crashes. The draft reportedly says that lower economy standards could save 1,000 lives per year on American roads. Moreover, it says that lower economy standards would keep the price of new cars lower, thus encouraging more people to buy newer, less-polluting vehicles. The AP says the draft claims the lower mileage standards could save buyers $2,100 to $2,700 on the cost of a new vehicle by 2025.


Would Americans be safer if they drove heavier, less-efficient vehicles for fewer miles?

Jon Wong/Roadshow

But perhaps the most surprising argument of all is this: The AP reports that new cars would be heavier if they didn't have to meet stricter economy regulations, which would also keep drivers safer. This is not the first time we've heard this argument, as the merits of heavier vehicles for driver safety were brought up in February. According to TheHill, the proposal has even be renamed "Safer and Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles."

These statements aren't without some basis in reality: It's fair to say that driving fewer miles reduces someone's likelihood of being in a car accident, and it's understandable that crash outcomes might be different in a 5,000-pound SUV compared to a 2,800-pound subcompact. But that's setting aside the fact that, for instance, many drivers have to cover a certain number of miles every day regardless of gas prices or vehicle fuel efficiency, or that modern cars use advanced metals to improve safety while also shedding weight.

This entire dispute began when the Environment Protection Agency sought to strike down rules set in place during the Obama administration that would raise the requirements for how fuel-efficient new vehicles must be -- the so-called Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE -- from 2022 to 2025. The decision was not without its backlash: automakers disagree with the plan to roll back emissions rules and 17 states are suing the EPA over the proposal.

Nothing is set in stone just yet. The AP reports that the administration is still working on its proposed fuel-economy rules for 2021-2026, with announcements to come soon.