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Dr. Jeffrey Runge, administrator of the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, wants to rewrite fuel economy standards and reverse the harm the rules have done to car and truck safety over the past quarter century, Automotive News reported.

The trade newspaper said planned changes to the corporate average fuel economy program (CAFE) would likely will include a redefinition of a ‘truck’ and could make vehicle weight classes more important than the distinction between cars and trucks.

Noting that Runge has previously said that every aspect of CAFE is up for review, Automotive News reported that Runge last week told a Senate hearing on truck safety that CAFE actually could be used as a tool to improve safety.

Automotive News said the programme has long been blamed for making vehicles more dangerous because cars, which meet tougher standards, have been made smaller, and motorists seeking larger vehicles have switched in increasing numbers to trucks, which meet a looser standard, increasing the risk to car drivers and negatively affecting fuel economy.

Automotive News said the notion that CAFE could be used to reverse the trend has surfaced in the midst of an uproar over light-truck safety where the top issues are truck rollovers and the mismatch between cars and trucks in collisions.

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According to the newspaper, Runge told the Senate hearing that NHTSA would seek public and industry comment on how to restructure the CAFE programme to resolve safety problems.

NHTSA would also seek new authority from Congress to make more fundamental changes, Automotive News said, citing Runge testimony. They could include adopting recommendations contained in a July 2001 National Academy of Sciences report which included, among other things, setting weight-based standards.

The CAFE changes Runge suggests would be for model years beyond 2007, Automotive News noted.