Clean Cars Are Safer and Cheaper to Drive

This post was written by EDF consultant Chester France, who served as a Senior Executive at EPA and led the development of vehicle standards at the agency


Very soon, the Trump administration is expected to propose dramatically weakening America’s Clean Car Standards under the Orwellian title “The Safer and More Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule.”

Actually, a decade-long record shows lower-polluting cars are safe and can contribute to a continuing reduction in traffic deaths. Strong Clean Car Standards also save Americans money at the gas pump.

The misleading title of the expected proposal — and the findings it insinuates — is just the latest example of the Trump administration manipulating analyses to achieve its desired result. A February 2017 email from Trump transition team member and professional climate denier David Schnare describes a White House order to set these rollbacks into motion, underscoring that this decision was preordained and not based on any analysis of facts or law.

Here are some facts you should know about clean cars, savings, and safety.

Clean Car Standards save Americans’ hard-earned money

With strong clean car standards, Americans save hard-earned money at the gas pump.

A new analysis by M.J. Bradley & Associates finds that with the current Clean Car Standards in place, owners of model year 2025 cars would see net savings of up to $5,000 over the lifetime of their cars compared to model year 2020 vehicles, and trucks owners could save up to $8,000.

The vast majority of families who finance their car purchase will start saving money as soon as they drive a car off the lot. For all families, their savings continue as long as they own their vehicle.

In contrast, the new M.J Bradley report finds that the Trump administration’s proposed rollback would cost Americans in every state. With the anticipated rollback, an average family will spend $200 more every year, and could spend as much as $500 more every year if gas prices continue to rise — with low-income and long-commuting Americans particularly hard hit.

Extensive safety analysis supports strong Clean Car Standards

Multiple federal agencies – including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the lead federal agency charged with vehicle safety –and the California Air Resources Board have done extensive, sophisticated technical assessments whose findings support the existing Clean Car Standards. The National Academy of Sciences has also carefully investigated the existing standards and found they are unlikely to lead to safety problems.

The studies, analyses and crash-worthiness simulations conducted during these assessments have resulted in thousands of pages of data showing that the Clean Car Standards are fully compatible with safer vehicles and fewer fatalities — and roundly rejecting the administration’s false contention that the standards harm vehicle safety.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration – and a politicized NHTSA – is expected to rely on two deeply flawed assumptions to make its case that strong Clean Car Standards harm safety:

  1. Strong Clean Car Standards force vehicle manufacturers to make lighter cars which they claim could be less crash-worthy.
  2. The higher price of these vehicles will result in owners keeping their older, less safe vehicles longer, rather than replacing them with newer, safer models.

The facts sharply contradict the administration’s conclusions:

Vehicle safety is fully compatible with the latest clean car advancements

  • Crash simulation studies have demonstrated that low-pollution-emitting cars and light trucks can be designed to meet and exceed NHTSA safety standards. Strategic use of new high strength materials can reduce weight while meeting the most stringent government safety standards. (See Lotus Engineering, Inc./California Air Resources Boardand FEV North America, Inc./EPA  evaluations of a Toyota Venza; EDAG, Inc./NHTSA evaluation of a 2014 Silverado at 3(b); FEV North America, Inc./EPA evaluation of a 2011 Silverado 1500; and EDAG, Inc. and George Mason University evaluation of a Honda Accord)
  • Automakers publicly confirm they have and can continue to use advanced, lightweight materials to meet clean car standards without sacrificing the safety and performance of their vehicles. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has similarly affirmed that, “Fuel economy can be improved without sacrificing safety.” Sixty-three new models using high strength steel to reduce weight and improve safety were introduced at North American auto shows in the past 12 months.
  • Automakers are selectively shedding more weight from larger vehicles, which provides a safety benefit in collisions with smaller, lighter vehicles.
  • New, more fuel-efficient vehicles readily meet NHTSA safety standards. For example, the Ford F150 shed 700 pounds, improved its fuel economy by 35 percent compared to the 2000 model, and achieved a top rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in 2017. As of July 25, 2018, 16 of 38 small car models  received a top pick safety rating in 2018, illustrating that all size cars and light trucks can be safe.
  • As standards have made cars cleaner and more fuel efficient, fatalities per hundred million miles of travel have decreased – from 3.35 in 1975 to 1.46 in 2005 to 1.18 in 2016.
  • Use of crash avoidance technologies such as autonomous braking and lane blind spot avoidance will be in wider use by the turn of the decade, making new cars even safer. For example, a very recent study by the Consumer Federation of America finds that models receiving a major redesign in 2018 featured 12.3 advanced safety features, compared to 7.4 safety features included in the older models that were replaced. The government and automakers have also agreed to equip nearly all models with automatic braking crash avoidance systems by September 2022.

The administration’s assumption that the higher price of a cleaner, more efficient car will result in Americans holding on to their older, less safe cars is wrong

  • In recent years, automakers have brought more efficient cars and trucks to market with record sales and strong profitability — underscoring that strong Clean Car Standards are fully compatible with brisk car sales.
  • The immediate and extensive fuel savings from cleaner cars far outweigh the incrementally higher initial cost of the vehicle, even at today’s lower fuel prices.
  • When the lower total cost of ownership is taken into consideration, modeling shows that the more protective clean car standards will result in an increase in sales of new passenger vehicles during the period the administration would abandon the standards. This will result in a relative increase in newer, safer cars on the road with a corresponding decrease in fatalities.
  • In inflation adjusted dollars, the average price of a new vehicle since 2010 has been relatively constant – even with increasing clean car and safety requirements, and the consumer shift to favoring larger, more expensive vehicles. This suggests that the auto industry has been capable of meeting new requirements and shifting consumer preferences with innovation that prevents large increases in vehicle price. It is reasonable to expect that industry innovation will continue to minimize up-front costs associated with clean car technology in the future.

There’s plenty of solid evidence that Clean Cars are safer and cheaper to drive. What’s truly dangerous is the Trump administration’s irresponsible plan to roll back our successful Clean Car Standards – and the deeply misleading way they reportedly plan to present it to the American public.

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