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 crash forces on occupants will be higher. 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.
Passenger vehicle occupant deaths represented 66 percent of the 32,367 motor vehicle crash deaths in 2011.
A total of 21,347 passenger vehicle occupants died in 2011, 30 percent less than in 1975. However, as pickups and SUVs have become more popular, the distribution of vehicle types in fatal crashes has changed. Car occupant deaths have declined 51 percent since 1975, while pickup occupant deaths have risen 15 percent and SUV occupant deaths are 9 times as high.
A total of 15,512 passenger vehicle drivers died in 2011, 3 percent fewer than in 2010 and 20 percent fewer than in 1975. Fifty-nine percent of passenger vehicle driver deaths in 2011 were car drivers, 21 percent were pickup drivers, and 18 percent were SUV drivers.
Frontal impacts accounted for 41 percent of passenger vehicle occupant deaths in 2011. Side impacts accounted for another 25 percent of passenger vehicle occupant deaths.
Forty-five percent of car occupant deaths in 2011 occurred in single-vehicle crashes and 55 percent occurred in multiple-vehicle crashes. In contrast, single-vehicle crashes accounted for 63 percent of SUV occupant deaths and 64 percent of pickup occupant deaths.
Twenty-nine percent of passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2011 were younger than 25.
Seventy-three percent of passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2011 were drivers; 70 percent of these drivers were males.
Nine percent of passenger vehicle occupant deaths were in the second or third row; 26 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 higher for the smaller and lighter vehicles. This was true again in 2011, but the differences were less extreme than they used to be.
Overall, driver deaths per million registered passenger vehicles in 2011 were about the same for single and multiple vehicle crashes, but this pattern varied by vehicle type. Pickups had the highest number of deaths per registered vehicle in single-vehicle crashes (32 per million) and cars had the highest number of deaths per registered vehicle in multiple-vehicle crashes (24 per million). SUVs had the lowest number of deaths per registered vehicle both in single-vehicle crashes (8 per million) and in multiple-vehicle crashes (10 per million).
Frontal impacts accounted for 11 driver deaths per million registered passenger vehicles in multiple-vehicle crashes in 2011 compared with 5 deaths per million in side impacts and 1 death per million in rear impacts.
Frontal impacts accounted for 8 driver deaths per million registered passenger vehicles in single-vehicle crashes in 2011 compared with 3 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 7,420 passenger vehicle occupants died in rollover crashes in 2011. Twenty-six 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 2011 (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.
Deutermann, W. 2002. Characteristics of fatal rollover crashes. Report no. DOT HS-809-438. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
A total of 6,133 passenger vehicle occupants died in single-vehicle rollover crashes in 2011, 4 percent less than in 2010 and 22 percent less than in 1978.
Single-vehicle rollover crashes accounted for 44 percent of occupant deaths in SUVs in 2011, compared with 39 percent of occupant deaths in pickups and 20 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 8 driver deaths per million registered passenger vehicles in 2011.
©1996-2016, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute | www.iihs.org
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