NHTSA Ponders Safety Benefits of Heavier, Less Efficient Vehicles

February 12, 2018 at 5:00 PM

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is considering the safety benefits of heavier but less fuel-efficient vehicles, Bloomberg News says.

The new service cites a draft analysis by the agency as it ponders a rollback for currently scheduled fuel economy standards. The rules, set during the Obama administration, would push fleet average requirements to nearly 50 mpg by 2026.

Bloomberg says the draft estimates annual traffic fatalities could shrink by an average 1,2000 deaths per year between 2036 and 2045 if the fuel economy target was lowered to 35.7 mpg. Less stringent efficiency goals would enable carmakers to meet standards with heavier vehicles—and cut the price per vehicle by almost $1,800.

The analysis also calculates the effects lesser reductions in the fuel economy standard. Bloomberg notes that safety researchers have debated the importance of vehicle weigh for decades.

All other factors being equal, heavier vehicles do a better job of protecting their occupants in a crash. But safety proponents note that carmakers have been improving the structure and safety technologies on all vehicles.

It isn’t clear whether the NHTSA analysis considers the touted safety benefits of self-driving technologies. Forecasters have said such vehicles will be commonplace in the 2036-2045 period referenced in the draft analysis.​​​​