Sipping fuel and saving lives: Increasing fuel economy without sacrificing safety

The public, automakers, and policymakers have long worried about trade-offs between increased fuel economy in motor vehicles and reduced safety. The conclusion of a broad group of experts on safety and fuel economy in the auto sector is that no trade-off is required. There are a wide variety of technologies and approaches available to advance vehicle fuel economy that have no effect on vehicle safety. Conversely, there are many technologies and approaches available to advance vehicle safety that are not detrimental to vehicle fuel economy.

Congress is considering new policies to increase the fuel economy of new automobiles in order to reduce oil dependence and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.The findings reported here offer reassurance on an important dimension of that work: It is possible to significantly increase the fuel economy of motor vehicles without compromising their safety.

Automobiles on the road today demonstrate that higher fuel economy and greater safety can coexist. Some of the safest vehicles have higher fuel economy, while some of the least safe vehicles driven today—heavy,large trucks and SUVs—have the lowest fuel economy.

At an October 3, 2006 workshop, leading researchers from national laboratories, academia, auto manufacturers, insurance research industry, consumer and environmental groups, material supply industries, and the federal government agreed that vehicles could be designed to simultaneously improve safety and fuel economy. The real question is not whether we can realize this goal, but the best path to get there.

The experts’ studies reveal important new conclusions about fuel economy and safety, including:

  • Vehicle fuel economy can be increased without affecting safety, and vice versa.
  • Reducing the weight and height of the heaviest SUVs and pickup trucks will simultaneously increase both their fuel economy and overall safety.
  • Advanced materials can decouple size from mass, creating important new possibilities for increasing both fuel economy and safety without compromising functionality.