Automakers: Safety Tech Should Count Towards CAFE Credits

An automaker trade group wants regulators to grant CAFE credits for autonomous technology.

Collision warnings, automated braking and adaptive cruise control are more than just safety features, said Mitch Bainwol, president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. They are fuel-efficiency boosters.

Bainwol’s industry lobbying group represents 12 auto manufacturers, including Ford Motor Co., Toyota, General Motors Co., and Fiat Chrysler.

“New safety systems are fuel economy game-changers, because fewer crashes mean less congestion, less fuel use, and fewer carbon emissions,” said Bainwol.

“The Texas Transportation Institute estimates that, in 2011, congestion in 498 metropolitan areas caused Americans to travel 5.5 billion hours more and buy an extra 2.9 billion gallons of fuel.”

A separate study by the University of California at Riverside estimated that technology to decrease accidents and congestion would reduce emissions by as much as 30-percent.

In a white paper on automated vehicles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) agrees with these conclusions.

“Vehicle control systems that automatically accelerate and brake with the flow of traffic can conserve fuel more efficiently than the average driver,” wrote the NHTSA.

“By eliminating a large number of vehicle crashes, highly effective crash avoidance technologies can reduce fuel consumption by also eliminating the traffic congestion that crashes cause every day on our roads.

“Reductions in fuel consumption, of course, yield corresponding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

To the extent vehicles can communicate with each other and with the highway infrastructure, the potential for safer and more efficient driving will be increased even more.”

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But translating the benefits from autonomous tech directly to gains in fuel economy is challenging, according to former NHTSA leader David Strickland.

“It’s going to be very difficult to prove the amount of crashes avoided … that turns into the amount of congestion avoided that turns into the amount of fuel savings and emissions reduced,” said Strickland.

“You want to give a credit for something that is meaningful.”

The potential connection between safety features and fuel economy is not a new topic for the auto industry, said Mike Spector with The Wall Street Journal.

But the upcoming review of CAFE guidelines is prompting automakers to spotlight the idea again.

“In 2012, when setting new fuel-economy standards, regulators said safety features should be evaluated only on their ability to save lives or reduce injuries, and not be considered for mileage credits,” Spector said.

“Exploiting the benefits of the technology is critical for auto makers ahead of 2017’s so-called midterm review of U.S. mileage standards.”

For the upcoming review, the NHTSA stated that it may “consider evidence” to see if safety tech “can be shown to have a significant effect” on fuel economy. The EPA, however, is hesitant to take the matter back under examination.