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MONDAY, MAY 1, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Government should require safe cars that also save gas

Washington's panic over high fuel prices — and its rush to appear to be doing something — would be amusing if so many people weren't hurting from those prices.

Back in the 1970s after the first modern energy crisis, the nation became more sensible about energy usage and cut back. But it didn't last.

The '80s saw relatively cheap energy, and soon we were back to gas guzzling, importing ever larger percentages of oil instead of producing more of it at home, and making no particular effort to develop alternative fuels.

Under rules known as Corporate Average Fuel Economy, the government requires automakers' fleets of cars to average 27.5 miles per gallon. This standard has not changed in two decades.

Now President Bush says he wants Congress to "give me the capacity to raise CAFE standards on automobiles."

But his administration has previously fought such increases in Congress, and last summer the White House opposed a plan to require the president to find ways to cut U.S. oil consumption by about 5 percent. At the time, the White House said that would be a "back door" to higher mileage requirements, The Associated Press reports.

Not surprisingly, Daniel Becker of the Sierra Club doubts that the administration sincerely wants to improve gas mileage. "Given the administration's track record, this is more evasion than an epiphany," he said.

Mr. Bush's transportation secretary, Norman Mineta, professes concern that higher mileage standards would result in smaller, lighter cars that are less safe.

Why don't we require cars to be both fuel-efficient and safe? Surely manufacturers can do better now on both fronts than they could 20 years ago.

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