Analysis: SUVs 5-7 Percent Safer Than Passenger Cars

Fatalities in SUV-Passenger Car Crashes Trending Downward

WASHINGTON, April 19 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In anticipation of the release of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) "Early Assessment" of 2006 traffic crashes, SUV Owners of America, released today an expert analysis of 1997-2005 data for vehicle performance in all kinds of crashes. It found that SUVs are 5-7 percent safer than passenger cars in reducing fatality risk. This is particularly important for consumers that may be downsizing to cut fuel costs -- a dangerous tradeoff.

SUVOA President Barry McCahill said, "The public is being told by some that small cars are now as safe as larger cars and SUVs, and can do all the same things. But, 99 percent of cars can no longer tow a boat or camp trailer, and small cars are not as safe as larger cars and SUVs. Just as important, light trucks like minivans and SUVs can carry more passengers safely than passenger cars."

"It's also inaccurate to say that SUV drivers are causing more deaths to occupants of smaller vehicles. There has been no increase in fatalities because of the size mismatch between SUVs and cars, and in 2005 the trend even turned downward for these kinds of crashes," he added.

"People buy vehicles that meet their needs, and they like to do so with good information in hand. Our intent in augmenting the NHTSA 2006 early fatality summary is not to advocate the purchase of any vehicle type, but to provide additional perspective," he said. "We also advise consumers to read the comprehensive new data summary now available from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)."

"All vehicles have become safer because of increased safety belt use, air bags, electronic stability control, improved vehicle structure and greater awareness about traffic safety. But the laws of physics that ultimately rule the road have not changed. Equipped with identical safety equipment, the larger vehicle also gets safer and always performs better in a crash than a smaller one," McCahill said.

McCahill explained that NHTSA's "Early Assessment" is based on vehicle registrations and reflects all occupant fatalities, and the effect of vehicle, roadway situation and driver behavior. The NHTSA analysis does not measure the safety performance of just the vehicle.

"The 'Early Assessment' chronicles what occurred on the road in 2006, and that's important to know. Our analysis covers nearly a decade of crash data, giving consumers additional information to help guide their vehicle purchase decisions," he said.

McCahill pointed out that NHTSA's New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) provides test results on the crash performance of individual vehicles to help guide consumer purchasing decisions. SUVOA's analysis, by a retired NHTSA engineer, considered both total occupant fatality rates and then solely driver fatality rates, the latter to get a more accurate picture of the vehicle's performance (since every vehicle has at least a driver).

He said the NHTSA analysis does not control for the fact that SUVs, because they typically hold more occupants, tend to have more occupant fatalities when a crash occurs.

These are the key findings based on vehicles that were involved in crashes:

    -- When the analysis considers only driver fatalities (focusing more on
       the vehicle's performance), and most recent years data (2003-2005) to
       include the contribution of the newest safety features, SUVs are
       5-7 percent safer than passenger cars.
    -- In crashes involving a light truck/van (includes SUVS) and a passenger
       car, occupant fatalities in passenger cars remained fairly constant
       from 2001-2004, but between 2004-2005 they declined by 4.3 percent.
    -- For both passenger cars and SUVs there has been a substantial reduction
       in overall occupant fatality rates, and by 2005 the rates are virtually
       identical per 100,000 registered vehicles (13.64, passenger car /
       13.84, SUVs).
    -- For both passenger cars and SUVs the occupant fatality rates in
       rollover crashes have decreased.  The percentage reduction from
       1997-2005 is 15.7 percent for passenger cars and more than 19 percent
       for SUVs.
    -- When considering the more prevalent frontal, side and rear crashes, by
       2005 SUVs had become about twice as safe as passenger cars. In 2005,
       SUVs had an occupant fatality rate in these crashes that was nearly 50
       percent lower than passenger cars (10.42, passenger cars / 5.56 SUVs).

A copy of the full report (with graphics) is available at

SUVOA is a non-profit consumer organization dedicated to supporting the rights and serving the interests of more than 80 million SUV, pickup, crossover and Van Owners of America. Founded in 1999, SUVOA strives to ensure balanced media reporting of light truck issues and represents our supporters by educating federal and state policymakers.

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