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Does higher fuel efficiency cause people to drive more?

The Obama administration has pushed for higher vehicle fuel-efficiency standards. I started wondering: if people know that their cars are more fuel-efficient, and thus cost less to drive, will they drive more? And if so, will the amount of their increased driving cause fuel consumption to remain as high or rise even higher than with less fuel-efficient vehicles?

The short answer is no. Americans have historically increased the amount they drive as fuel-efficiency has increased, but the increase is small enough that the net effect is still a decrease in fuel consumption.

The Jevons Paradox, or Jevons Effect, states that as a resource can be used more efficiently, consumption of that resource increases. In the case of increasing fuel-efficiency causing an increase in fuel consumption, it's called the "rebound effect". However, it's been calculated that doubling fuel-efficiency causes driving to increase only about 7%, so the net effect is still a decrease in fuel consumption.

Here's a graph of what you don't want to happen. Increased fuel-efficiency lowers the cost of fuel by half, and consumption more than doubles.


Here's an example of what has actually occurred in the US, historically. Increased fuel-efficiency lowers the cost of fuel by half, causing consumption to increase; but by less than double.


For the statistics and analysis of the rebound effect, see the following sources (which also include their own links to other sources):

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