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Is passenger vehicle incompatibility still a problem?

Teoh, Eric R.; Nolan, Joseph M.
Traffic Injury Prevention
November 2012

Objective: Passenger cars often are at a disadvantage when colliding with light trucks (sport utility vehicles [SUVs] and pickups) due to differences in mass, vehicle structural alignment, and stiffness. In 2003, vehicle manufacturers agreed to voluntary measures to improve compatibility, especially in front-to-front and front-to-side crashes, with full adherence to be achieved by September 2009. This study examined whether fatality rates are consistent with the expected benefit of this agreement.
Methods: Analyses examined 2 death rates for 1-to4-year-old passenger vehicles during 2000-2001 and 2008-2009
In the united states: occupant deaths per million registered vehicle years in these vehicles and deaths in other cars that collided with these vehicles in 2-vehicle crashes per million registered vehicle years. These rates were computed for each study period and for cars/minivans (referred to as cars), SUVs, and pickups by curb weight (in 500-poundincrements). The latter death rate, referred to as the car crash partner death rate, also was computed for front-to-front crashes and front-to-side crashes where the front of the 1-to4-year-old vehicle struck the side of the partner car.
Results: In both study periods, occupant death rates generally decreased for each vehicle type both with increasing curb weight and over time. SUVs experienced the greatest declines compared with cars and pickups. This is due in part to the early fitment of electronic stability control in SUVs, which drastically reduced the incidence of single-vehicle rollover crashes. Pickups had the highest death rates in both study periods. Car crash partner death rates generally declined over time for all vehicle categories but more steeply for SUVs and pickups colliding with cars than for cars colliding with cars. In fact, the car crash partner death rates for SUVs and cars were nearly identical during 2008–2009, suggesting that the voluntary design changes for compatibility have been effective. Car crash partner death rates also declined for pickups, but their rates were consistently the highest in both study periods.
Conclusion: It is impossible to disentangle the individual contributions of the compatibility agreement, improved crashworthiness of cars, and other factors in reducing car crash partner fatality rates. However, the generally larger reductions in car crash partner death rates for SUVs and pickups indicate the likely benefit of the agreement. Overall, this study finds that the system of regulatory testing, voluntary industry initiatives, and consumer information testing has led to a passenger vehicle fleet that is much more compatible in crashes.