Crash rates of convertible cars

Teoh, Eric R.
Traffic Injury Prevention (TIP)
March 2021

Objective: Convertible cars have existed since among the first automobiles, and the lack of substantial roof structure creates some safety concerns. Though crash tests have demonstrated that convertibles can resist excessive intrusion in front and side crashes and that strong A-pillars and roll bars can help maintain survival space in rollovers, little work has been done examining the real-world crash experience of these vehicles. The objective of this study was to compare the crash experience of recent convertibles with nonconvertible versions of the same cars using the most recent crash data.
Methods: Crash and exposure data were obtained from the U.S. Department of Transportation and IHS Markit, respectively. Rates of driver deaths and police-reported crash involvements were compared for 1- to 5-year-old convertible cars and their nonconvertible versions during 2014–2018. Exposure measures included registered vehicle years (RVY) and vehicle miles traveled (VMT). These rates were compared using the standardized mortality ratio to account for possible differences in exposure distribution. Crash circumstances (e.g., point of impact, rollover, ejection) and behavioral outcomes (e.g., speeding, alcohol impairment, seat belt use) were compared for drivers killed in crashes.
Results: Convertibles had lower driver death rates and police-reported crash involvement rates on the basis of both RVY and VMT. However, the differences in driver death rates were not statistically significant. Driver deaths per 10 billion VMT were 11% lower for convertibles, and driver involvement in police-reported crashes per 10 million VMT was 6% lower. On average, convertibles were driven 1,595 fewer miles per year than the nonconvertible versions of these cars. Among fatally injured drivers, convertibles had slightly higher rates of ejection, and behavioral differences were minimal. The number of rollovers was small and their rate did not substantially differ between convertibles and their nonconvertible versions.
Conclusions: Safety concerns associated with convertibles’ retractable roof structures were not supported by the results of this study.

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