Bigger, heavier vehicles protect their occupants better.
By far the largest number of motor vehicle crash deaths are occupants of passenger vehicles including cars, minivans, pickups, SUVs, and cargo/large passenger vans. The likelihood of crash death varies markedly among these vehicle types according to size. Small/light vehicles have less structure and size to absorb crash energy, so more injurious forces can reach their occupants in crashes. People in lighter vehicles are at a disadvantage in collisions with heavier vehicles.
Kahane, C.J. 2003. Vehicle weight, fatality risk and crash compatibility of model year 1991-99 passenger cars and light trucks. Report no. DOT HS-809-662. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Pickups and SUVs are proportionally more likely than cars to be in fatal single-vehicle crashes, especially rollovers. However, pickups and SUVs generally are heavier than cars, so occupant deaths in SUVs and pickups are less likely to occur in multiple-vehicle crashes.
The following facts are based on analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and The Polk Company's National Vehicle Population Profile.
A total of 23,437 passenger vehicle occupants died in 2009, 23 percent less than in 1975. However, the distribution of vehicle types among these crashes has changed. Car occupant deaths have declined 45 percent since 1975, while pickup occupant deaths have risen 29 percent and SUV occupant deaths are more than 9 times as high.
Passenger vehicle occupant deaths by vehicle type, 1975-2009
A total of 16,791 passenger vehicle drivers died in 2009, 8 percent less than in 2008 and 13 percent less than in 1975. Sixty percent of passenger vehicle driver deaths in 2009 were car drivers, 22 percent were pickup drivers, and 17 percent were SUV drivers.
Passenger vehicle occupant deaths represented 69 percent of the 33,808 motor vehicle crash deaths in 2009.
Frontal impacts accounted for 52 percent of passenger vehicle occupant deaths in 2009. Side impacts accounted for another 27 percent of passenger vehicle occupant deaths.
Forty-six percent of car occupant deaths in 2009 occurred in single-vehicle crashes and 54 percent occurred in multiple-vehicle crashes. In contrast, single-vehicle crashes accounted for 64 percent of SUV occupant deaths and 64 percent of pickup occupant deaths.
Twenty-nine percent of passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2009 were younger than 25.
Seventy-two percent of passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2009 were drivers; 71 percent of these drivers were males.
Nine percent of passenger vehicle occupant deaths were in the second or third row; 27 percent of these were younger than 13.
Computing driver death rates per million registered passenger vehicles allows for comparisons of fatal crash risk across vehicle groups. The computed rates reflect the influence of vehicle designs plus their patterns of use and the demographics of their drivers. Driver death rates are based on 1-3-year-old vehicles only so as to minimize the effects of vehicle aging. Rates based on fewer than 120,000 vehicle registrations are considered unreliable and are not included.
Since 1978, the overall rates of driver and occupant deaths per million registered vehicles have declined across all passenger vehicle types. Declines in death rates have been largest for SUV occupants.
Historically, the rates of driver deaths per million registered vehicles have been lower for the larger and heavier vehicles. This was true for cars in 2009, but not for pickups and SUVs.
Driver deaths per million registered passenger vehicles 1-3 years old, 2009
Overall, driver deaths per million registered passenger vehicles in 2009 were about the same for single and multiple vehicle crashes, but this pattern varied by vehicle type. In single-vehicle crashes, pickups had the highest number of deaths per registered vehicle (48 per million) in 2009. In multiple-vehicle crashes, cars had the highest number of deaths per registered vehicle (31 per million), and SUVs had the lowest number of deaths per registered vehicle (14 per million).
Frontal impacts accounted for 16 driver deaths per million registered passenger vehicles in multiple-vehicle crashes in 2009 compared with 7 deaths per million in side impacts and 1 death per million in rear impacts.
Frontal impacts accounted for 14 driver deaths per million registered passenger vehicles in single-vehicle crashes in 2009 compared with 5 deaths per million in side impacts and fewer than 1 death per million in rear impacts.
A vehicle is classified as rolling over if it tips onto its side or roof at any time during the crash. The rollover may occur subsequent to a frontal or side impact with another vehicle or a fixed object. Many rollovers occur after a vehicle leaves the roadway and may lead to occupants being ejected from the vehicle, increasing the likelihood of a fatality.
A total of 8,296 passenger vehicle occupants died in rollover crashes in 2009. Nineteen percent of these did not involve any other impact.
Crashes in which a vehicle rolled over accounted for 35 percent of passenger vehicle occupant deaths in 2009 (55 percent of single-vehicle occupant crash deaths and 13 percent of multiple-vehicle occupant crash deaths).
Since 1978 pickups and SUVs have a consistently higher percentage of rollover deaths than cars.
More than three-fourths of fatal rollovers are single-vehicle crashes.[ Error ] The remaining facts will concentrate on single-vehicle rollovers.
A total of 6,849 passenger vehicle occupants died in single-vehicle rollover crashes in 2009, 9 percent less than in 2008 and 13 percent less than in 1978.
Single-vehicle rollover crashes accounted for 46 percent of occupant deaths in SUVs in 2009, compared with 40 percent of occupant deaths in pickups and 21 percent in cars.
Since 1978, driver death rates for single-vehicle rollover crashes have declined across all passenger vehicle types, particularly for SUVs. Single-vehicle crashes involving rollover accounted for 14 driver deaths per million registered passenger vehicles in 2009.
©1996-2014, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute | www.iihs.org
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