FAQs: SAFE Vehicles Final Rule

On March 31, 2020, the Trump Administration released the SAFE Vehicles Rule on fuel economy and carbon dioxide emissions, the Administration’s biggest regulatory reform action.  The rule will improve safety and lower costs of cars and trucks for American families by updating outdated and unrealistic fuel economy standards that made cars and trucks less affordable.  Here are some common points of confusion on the rule.

Question:  Why do this rule now?

Answer:  The SAFE Vehicles Rule makes good on the President’s promise to scrutinize fuel economy standards.  The 2012 rule was based on faulty assumptions that imposed costs on American consumers that could not be justified for the limited environmental benefits.  While the Administration is focused on the nation’s health crisis, we signed this rule March 30 to meet a deadline set by Congress.  By reducing unnecessary regulatory costs, this rule will save our economy hundreds of billions of dollars and help make newer, cleaner, safer vehicles more affordable for American families, and that will add millions of additional new car sales in the coming years.  

Question:  Is the SAFE Vehicles Rule a “rollback” of fuel economy rules?

Answer:  No.  The required fuel economy of average vehicles will continue to increase each year under this rule.  The SAFE Vehicles Rule will increase fuel economy standards by 1.5% per year for model years 2021 to 2026, an improvement over the costly and unrealistic level of about 5% per year under the standards set in 2012.  Much of the auto industry is unable to meet those standards today, which contributes to making new vehicles unaffordable for many American families.

The State of California appears to agree that the 2012 fuel economy standards were unrealistic.  In the framework agreement it posed with certain automakers, the State proposes 3.7% annual increases—or even 2.7% for automakers who build expensive electric vehicles favored by the California Air Resources Board.  That’s far below the 2012 targets.  Meanwhile, the extensive analysis published by NHTSA and EPA instead shows that a 1.5% annual increase in stringency strikes the right balance with economic factors such as affordability (the ability for all Americans, not just the privileged few, to afford vehicles that meet their families’ diverse needs), consumer choice, energy conservation goals, the state of technology, and safety.  

Question:  Doesn’t the rule weaken efforts to fight climate change?

Answer:  The 2012 rule was hurting the ability to reduce emissions because fewer American families were able to afford to replace old vehicles.  Due in part to the unrealistic standards set in 2012, the average age of vehicles on our roads has grown from about 10 to nearly 12 years – the oldest fleet in history – and that means most of our Nation’s drivers are missing out on the significant technological improvements that are making newer vehicles safer and cleaner than ever. 

Under EPA rules, we will see CO2 reductions year over year, and the American automobile industry will continue to reduce global emissions.  

It is important to note that very few companies were actually meeting the performance targets set in 2012, and further shortfalls were increasingly likely, going forward.  In the long run, climate goals worldwide won’t be met if trucks and cars are not moving to achieve tailpipe emission standards.  By setting ambitious but realistic emissions for vehicles in the years ahead, the rule is the right approach to making real reductions in emissions.  

Question:  Will the SAFE Vehicles Rule save American families money?

Answer:  As of February 2020, the average price of a new passenger vehicle was about $38,000.  Thanks to the SAFE Vehicles Rule, new cars, trucks and SUVs — vehicles with the latest safety features — will be more affordable and our Nation’s families can be safer on the roads, as compared to what would have happened if the 2012 standards remained in place.

The combination of savings on additional technology required to meet the 2012 standards, as well as lower costs for registration, taxes, and financing on less expensive vehicles, are estimated to save new vehicle buyers about $1,400 per vehicle, on average.  The additional fuel costs, discounted at 7% over the life of the vehicle, up to 39 years, total about $1,100.  But the upfront savings in costs improves affordability, while increased fuel expenditures are borne over the lifetime of the vehicle and multiple owners.  You can’t pay today’s bills with tomorrow’s savings.

Question:  Was the SAFE Vehicles Rule necessary or just part of a “deregulatory” agenda?

Answer:  The 2012 standards were outdated and not achievable by automakers – they haven’t stood the test of time.  Oil prices have fallen by more than half, domestic energy production capacity has skyrocketed, and Americans are choosing to buy more crossovers and SUVs rather than compact passenger cars and “microcars” the 2012 rule assumed people would flock toward. At the same time, the average price of new vehicles continues to rise, pricing too many families out of the market for new or newer cars, trucks, and SUVs with the latest safety features and technologies.

Question:  Won’t increased carbon emissions lead to more deaths than this rule saves?

Answer:  Carbon emissions (such as carbon dioxide that humans exhale) are not smog-forming or other harmful pollution.  The SAFE Vehicles Rule amends the regulation of carbon dioxide emissions only, not smog-forming and other harmful pollution.  While carbon emissions are known to contribute to climate change, the climate effects of the final standards as compared to the unattainable 2012 standards are extremely small – less than 1/1000th of a degree Celsius in 2040.  In terms of health effects from harmful pollution, the reduced technology costs under this rule are expected to allow American families to afford 2.7 million more new vehicles than the costly standards set in 2012.  And these new vehicles will be subject to EPA’s most stringent vehicle pollution control standards in American history—resulting in cleaner cars on the road.  

The final SAFE Vehicles Rule will save more lives, with 3,300 fewer crash fatalities, 46,000 fewer hospitalizations after serious crashes projected over the lifetimes of vehicles built through model year 2029; there will be 397,000 fewer injuries, and 1.8 million fewer vehicles damaged in crashes.

Question:  Is this rule really about safety?

Answer:  Safety is a critical benefit from this rule, but it is one among many important considerations that the agencies evaluated in setting the final standards.  The agencies expect this rule to reduce traffic fatalities by 3,300 people and reduce injuries by 397,000 over the lifetime of vehicles built through MY 2029.  NHTSA has made safety assessments one of the elements of CAFE regulations for decades.

Question: Will this rule make air pollution worse?

Answer:  No.  This rule does not change the EPA’s strict anti-pollution standards; the SAFE Vehicles Rule only changes the standards for CO2 emissions, not harmful pollution.  All vehicles built under this rule will comply with the EPA’s pollution rules, and because new vehicles are subject to stricter anti-pollution rules, air pollution will be reduced as older vehicles that emit more harmful pollution will be retired and replaced by newer, cleaner vehicles.  Communities that experience high levels of direct automobile-related pollution, such as those located near highways, will experience cleaner air as a result of the SAFE Vehicles Rule.  And any additional fuel refining that occurs because there would be more newer, safer, cleaner vehicles would also be subject to the EPA’s strict pollution controls. 

Learn more about the SAFE Vehicles Rule