MENLO PARK, Calif. – A group of leading automotive researchers working with the support of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has concluded that significant increases in fuel-economy standards for vehicles are possible with no loss of safety.

The group’s findings were released today in a report entitled “Sipping Fuel and Saving Lives: Increasing Fuel Economy without Sacrificing Safety” by Deborah Gordon, a transportation policy consultant; David L. Greene, a fuel-economy policy expert; Marc H. Ross, professor emeritus of physics at the University of Michigan; and Tom P. Wenzel, of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The full study and a report overview are available here. Background materials from the workshop may be found by visiting here.

The report is the product of an October 2006 policy workshop, convened by the Hewlett Foundation’s Environment Program, of experts in vehicle safety and fuel efficiency from academia, research organizations, government, advocacy groups and the auto-manufacturing industry. At the workshop, researchers shared the most recent evidence on fuel economy and safety, including important peer-reviewed studies published since the National Academy of Sciences’ 2002 report on fuel-economy standards.

Timely Release of Report

The report, which was released by the International Council on Clean Transportation in Washington, D.C., at the offices of Resources for the Future, provides critical insights at a time when Congress is considering changes in the nation’s motor vehicle fuel-economy requirements, known as Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. The International Council on Clean Transportation, a Hewlett Foundation grantee, works to improve the environmental performance and efficiency of vehicles and transportation systems.  Resources for the Future is an independent institute dedicated to analyzing environmental, energy, and natural resource topics to help policymakers to make sound choices.

“As the research makes clear, with smart engineering there’s no reason to choose between safety and fuel efficiency in automotive design,” said Hal Harvey, director of the Foundation’s Environment Program. “Now it’s up to policymakers to provide the regulatory environment to encourage better fuel efficiency to happen.”

Among its key findings, the study concludes that manufacturers can use advanced materials to increase both fuel economy and safety without reducing a vehicle’s functionality. It also finds that reducing the weight and height of the heaviest SUVs and pickup trucks will simultaneously increase both their fuel economy and overall safety.

Experts Say No Trade-offs Needed

“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,” the study concludes. “There are a wide variety of technologies and approaches available to advance vehicle fuel economy that have no effect on vehicle safety.”

The study’s authors reviewed a decade’s worth of recent research in the field and concluded:

  • Most technologies to increase fuel economy do not affect safety; most technologies to increase safety do not affect fuel economy.
  • Reducing car mass while improving vehicle structure, using advanced materials and designs, can simultaneously increase fuel economy and safety.
  • Reducing the weight and improving the structure of truck-based SUVs and pickups can increase their fuel economy and improve the safety of all vehicles on the road.
  • They also concluded that existing technology options can improve light-duty vehicle fuel economy by up to 50 percent over the next ten years without reducing the weight or size of vehicles. Any extra cost associated with the auto-manufacturing changes would be more than offset by savings generated by more fuel-efficient vehicles.

“As nations around the world consider new standards to improve fuel economy or lower greenhouse gas emissions from passenger vehicles, it’s important to address a common misperception that passenger safety is inevitably compromised as fuel standards are strengthened,” said Drew Kodjak, executive director of the International Council on Clean Transportation. “This debate exists only in the United States, and this report settles that debate once and for all.”

The study recommends that policymakers

  • set fuel-economy and safety performance goals at cost-effective levels and allow adequate time for the phase-in of vehicle redesigns,
  • develop short-term goals that use existing technological potential and long-term goals that will spur continued innovation,
  • apply the same fuel-economy and safety standards consistently to all vehicle types (cars, SUVs and pickups) and
  • encourage driver behavior that improves fuel economy or safety, for example, using seat belts and reducing driving speeds.

About The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation,, has been making grants since 1967 to help solve social and environmental problems at home and around the world. The Foundation concentrates its resources on activities in education, the environment, global development, performing arts, philanthropy and population and makes grants to support disadvantaged communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. A full list of the Hewlett Foundation’s grants can be found at