Group Says Energy-Efficient Cars are Unsafe

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The Institute for Energy Research reported this week that the fuel economy standards being pushed by the Obama administration may be trading safety for savings as cars are being built smaller and lighter weight in order to achieve more miles per gallon. Here are the details.

* According to the Institute for Energy Research, President Barack Obama's Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard requires an average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 -- almost twice the current level. The problem, the institute states, "is that we can only go so far in achieving this increase without affecting driver and passenger safety due to weight reductions."

* The institute referenced an opinion piece published in January in the National Review Online, in which writer Robert E. Norton gave an example as to how size matters in this situation. "Imagine a head-on collision on a two-lane country road at a speed of 40 mph," Norton wrote. "One of the cars involved is a Cadillac Escalade and the other a Chevy Volt." Norton then went on to ask readers which vehicle they would prefer to be in and which they would prefer to have their child in.

* A recent study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, in which a series of tests pitting smaller vehicles against the next-size large vehicle from the same manufacturer showed the results that Norton eluded to in his piece, the institute reported. In 40 mph offset-collision tests, "the small cars were basically obliterated by the larger models."

* The institute's concerns are not new. According to a 2005 report from the Center for Transportation Analysis, fuel economy of passenger cars has been regulated by the corporate average fuel economy standards since the energy crises of the late 1970s. In 1989 a study showed a link between higher fuel economy and decreases in vehicle weight in correlation with a link between a decline in new car weight and an increase in occupant fatalities.

* The report, however, stated that later studies contradicted the notion that increasing fuel economy will lead to an increase in traffic fatalities.

* According to the institute, while traffic fatalities reached its lowest level in more than six decades in 2011, the number of traffic deaths increased 7.1 percent in the first nine months of 2012 compared to figures from the year before.

* Though the institute states that improvements to technology -- including anti-lock breaks and airbags -- and increased usage of safety belts likely led to the decrease in traffic fatalities, "it is clear that smaller vehicles forced on the public by the federal government to increase efficiency cannot compete against larger vehicles in crashes. Mass is key to safety, all things being equal."

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