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Government Study Confirms Large Vehicles are Safer

The January 2006 report issued by the National Highway and Transportation Safety Agency (NHTSA) concludes that larger vehicles are safer than smaller ones. DUH! It took a six page pdf report written by a government contractor from URC Enterprises to summarize crash statistics from 1997 through 2004 to reconfirm the basic equation in physics – F=MA (force equals mass times acceleration).
In a time when more people may be considering smaller cars to offset the skyrocketing cost of fuel, new small B-Segment entries like the Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa and Honda_Fit are being introduced. These cars meet the need for small, fuel efficient transportation and certainly carry impressive safety credentials like crush zones and air bags galore. Even our own VehicleVoice survey research shows that that there is increased consideration for small cars these days. So, what’s the right thing to do?
Well, as the government report confirms, F still equal MA.

Occupant fatality rates in all basic vehicle classes have been going down since 1997. The overall conclusion from the NHTSA Research Note is that “compact cars have the highest occupant fatality rate while the “large vans” category has the lowest occupancy fatality rate.
Why Do Small Vehicles Lose the Battle?
The three government categories that rate the worst in the statistics are compact cars (17.76 fatalities per 100,000 registered vehicles in 2004), compact pickups (16.87), and subcompact cars (16.85). Think about these vehicles. Generally they are small, many of these are old and do not benefit from the latest in safety technology, and often they are driven by young people who are inexperienced drivers or driving home from a party with a blood alcohol level of 0.2 or higher. Small size, prior generation safety technology and inexperienced/inebriated drivers equate to RISK.
We Have All Had Relatives That Bought a Huge Car Because it Was Luxurious AND Safe
Since the beginning of time, or at least since the beginning of the auto industry, people have purchased luxury cars, large cars and large SUVs because they perceived them to be safer than other vehicle types. How many of us had the wealthy uncle who would get a new Caddy every two years because it was the “Standard of the World” and he thought it was really safe? Same goes for old land barge Lincoln Continentals. Full-Size SUVs fit in the same category.
The government statistics show that the much maligned Full-Size SUV category falls comfortably below teh worst scoring vehicles (12.34 fatalities per 100,000 registered vehicles in 2004). The rate for the Full SUV is essentially equal to Full-Size Cars (12.16) and just a bit worse than Mid-Size Cars (11.49).
Minivans Have Lowest Fatality Rates Among Mainstream Passenger Vehicles
The mainstream passenger vehicle with the best rating is the minivan (11.09). We can conclude that these vehicles are often driven by a mother carrying her children from home to school and activity-to-event. Driven sedately, minivans are carrying a family’s most precious possession – their children – so it is not unexpected that they achieve low fatality rates.
About One-Third of Fatalities Involved Rollovers in 2004
We can’t overlook the issue of the rate of fatalities in rollover accidents because this is part of the government study. This is where Mid-Size SUVs, Full-Size SUVs and Compact Pickups do worst. The statistic presented is “Occupant Fatality Rates in Vehicles That ROLLED OVER per 100,000 Registered Vehicles”. The operative word is among those vehicles that ROLLED OVER. If you grimble around in the data a bit you see that about one-third of the fatal accidents (10,553 accidents out of 31,693 total accidents) involved rollovers. About one-third of the rollover fatalities were among SUV drivers and a slightly lower rate among pickup owners.
About 80% of SUVs involved in fatal accidents were what the government classifies as Mid-Size SUVs. About 61% of Mid-Size SUVs involved in fatal accidents were also involved in rollovers. About 20% of fatalities in SUVs were among Full-Size SUVs and 64% of those were involved in rollovers. Clearly an SUV is not the place to be in a rollover, but it appears that you do want to be in a Full-Size SUV like a Ford Expedition, Chevrolet Suburban, Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon in any crash situation. F still equals MA.


  • Prof P C Rao| February 5, 2006 at 6:51 pm Reply

    I had come to SFO last year and this year and I find there is no let up in people using the vehicles.I hardly find people walking on the roads unless you have to take your Dog for exercising? Why not the people start using small vehicles like Honda Insight when hardly I see 2 people in cars.It is always the husband or the wife and hardly I see both of them.It is high time we make only two seater cars with smaller wheelbase and weights so that there is no bigger vehicles to dash against small ones.
    It is pity that people do not use Rail traction for work or pleasure when there is so many cars going on both the directions of the freeways?
    Prof P C Rao- Faculty Member(Engg.Mgmt)

  • Urquhart| February 4, 2006 at 7:57 am Reply

    F sure does equal MA. In 1998 I T-Boned a Saturn that ran a red light. I was driving an Expedition. Airbags all over the place. Front end crushed, but not into the passenger compartment. Couldn’t drive it or steer it, but the passenger compartment was pretty secure. Luckily, the Expedition (travelling at about 45 mph) hit the Saturn on the passenger side and there was no passenger. That person would have been dead. The Expedition pushed the Saturn to the other side of the intersection before the crash stopped. The driver of the Saturn was able to get up and walk away admittedly with a bit of a limp. That she got out is testament to Saturn’s structural safety in a side impact.
    But it did prove to me that bigger is better in a crash.

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