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Study of vehicle crash safety: Bigger is better

Laws of physics are exactly the same in North Carolina as they are in San Francisco, Tokyo, Paris and every other place on the planet. Those laws go into action every time two cars collide. The results of each collision are determined by a wide variety of factors such as speed, point of contact, directions of the vehicles at the moment of impact, and so on.

Weighty safety

One of the most significant elements that determine the outcome of the crash is the weight of the two vehicles involved. Basic physics dictates that the occupants of the larger, heavier vehicles are less likely to be injured in a motor vehicle accident than those in smaller, lighter cars.

A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) confirms this.

Overwhelming majority

The insurance industry group analyzed crashes from 2015 to 2018 and determined that 15 of the 20 vehicle models with the highest fatality rates were small or mini cars and that most of the safest models were large.

The IIHS senior vice president of vehicle research said, “smaller vehicles offer less protection for the driver in crashes, and their lighter mass means that they take the brunt of collisions with larger vehicles.”

What about safety ratings?

Owners of small vehicles that have excellent safety ratings might well wonder if researchers are incorporating that data into their studies. The problem with government safety ratings is this: vehicles are tested based on the weight of that particular vehicle. They’re not tested on what would happen when they crash into a larger vehicle, such as a luxury SUV or 18-wheeler.

According to the IIHS study that measured fatalities per million registered vehicle years, these are the 10 least safe vehicles:

  • Ford Fiesta: 141 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years
  • Hyundai Accent: 116
  • Chevrolet Sonic: 98
  • Nissan Versa Note: 96
  • Fiat 500: 95
  • Hyundai Elantra: 89
  • Kia Forte: 89
  • Nissan Versa: 88
  • Kia Rio: 87
  • Ford Mustang GT couple: 81

Trend reversal

From the 1970s on, the IIHS had observed a decline in motor vehicle crash fatalities, but the trend reversed in 2011. In that year, there was an average of 28 fatalities per million registered vehicle years, which had risen to 30 by 2014. Their most recent study puts the figure at 36 – an alarming increase in a short time.

Most observers attribute that rapid increase to the parallel growth in the American consumer’s appetite for ever-larger vehicles.

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