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Pounds that Kill: The External Costs of Vehicle Weight

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  • Michael Anderson
  • Maximilian Auffhammer

Abstract

Heavier vehicles are safer for their own occupants but more hazardous for the occupants of other vehicles. In this paper we estimate the increased probability of fatalities from being hit by a heavier vehicle in a collision. We show that, controlling for own-vehicle weight, being hit by a vehicle that is 1,000 pounds heavier results in a 47% increase in the baseline fatality probability. Estimation results further suggest that the fatality risk is even higher if the striking vehicle is a light truck (SUV, pickup truck, or minivan). We calculate that the value of the external risk generated by the gain in fleet weight since 1989 is approximately 27 cents per gallon of gasoline. We further calculate that the total fatality externality is roughly equivalent to a gas tax of $1.08 per gallon. We consider two policy options for internalizing this external cost: a gas tax and an optimal weight varying mileage tax. Comparing these options, we find that the cost is similar for most vehicles.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael Anderson & Maximilian Auffhammer, 2011. "Pounds that Kill: The External Costs of Vehicle Weight," NBER Working Papers 17170, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17170
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H23 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Externalities; Redistributive Effects; Environmental Taxes and Subsidies
    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • Q48 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Energy - - - Government Policy
    • Q58 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environmental Economics: Government Policy
    • R41 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Transportation Economics - - - Transportation: Demand, Supply, and Congestion; Travel Time; Safety and Accidents; Transportation Noise

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