More traffic fatalities

A House-Senate committee will meet in the coming weeks to resolve differences in energy legislation that has environmentalists feeling tingly with anticipation. Massive tax increases on big oil. Tax credits for hybrid car buyers. Expensive renewable energy requirements for utilities.

Another key policy compromise involves increasing the average fuel economy of all vehicles made in the United States. A House bill would increase the average standard to 32 miles per gallon for all passenger cars, pickups, sport utility vehicles and light trucks by 2022. The Senate’s version, passed in June, wants the average upped to 35 miles per gallon by 2020. (The current federal standard is 27.5 miles per gallon.)

Absent from the mileage debate will be an estimate of how many Americans will die as a result of the Washington mandate.

In order to raise fuel efficiency standards, vehicles and trucks must be made lighter and smaller. And drivers of lighter, smaller vehicles are at much greater risk of being killed in accidents than those in bigger, heavier vehicles.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determined in separate studies that drivers of small cars are up to twice as likely to die in an accident than drivers of mid-size cars. A 2002 National Academy of Sciences report said “small vehicles have higher fatality rates than larger ones.”

Higher fuel prices are already driving consumers toward vehicles that get more miles per gallon. USA Today reported last week that among all new vehicle sales, small cars are selling better this year than last. So are SUVs.

It’s worth noting that gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles have become hot items without the advantage of a federal tax credit or a revised fuel-efficiency standard. Market forces are already forcing automakers to produce more high-mileage cars. But a drastically higher standard will give consumers fewer choices — and higher costs for federally mandated safety features.

Democrats can spout all the nonsense they want about global warming, but they can’t ignore the amount of blood that will be spilled on the nation’s highways as a result of increased mileage standards.

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