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Car Accidents: Do Vehicle Safety Ratings Really Matter?

So, you’re looking to buy a new car? If you’re like most people, you want to find an automobile that’s reasonably priced, is efficient on gas and fits your family lifestyle. You’ll also want an automobile that can help to keep you and your loved ones safe in the event of an accident. Whether it’s a sport utility vehicle (SUV) rolling over from an over-correction or a car crashing into a guardrail after a tire blowout, you expect a car’s safety features to offer some additional protection during an accident.  To figure out how an automobile actually performs during a crash, many consumers look to crash safety ratings data when shopping for a new car. But, according to a new study, when it comes to safety performance during an accident, crash test ratings are not nearly as important as the type of vehicle you’re driving.

The one to five star crash test safety rating system was originally developed in 1978 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in an effort to provide consumers with automobile safety data. The NHTSA ratings go from one to five stars and are based on data from frontal, side barrier, rollover and side pole crashes. During the crash testing, NHTSA compares vehicles of similar make, model, size and weight. While car companies often advertise certain safety features and high crash test scores for their vehicles, new data seems to show that these ratings don’t necessarily prove superior safety during car accidents.

Car Accidents and Safety Ratings

Research conducted at the University at Buffalo examined severe head-on motor vehicle crashes logged in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) database between 1995 and 2010. The FARS database contains details of car accidents that resulted in a death within 30 days of the incident and includes 83,521 vehicles that were involved in the head-on crashes. What the researchers found was that, despite crash test ratings, if two cars are involved in an accident, most fatalities occur in the vehicle that is smaller and lighter. If both vehicles weigh approximately the same, the safety advantage still goes to SUV drivers. For example, in head-on car accidents between passenger cars and SUVs, researchers found that drivers of passenger cars were around 10 times more likely to die. On the other hand, drivers of passenger cars were over four times more likely to die, even if the passenger car received a better crash rating than the SUV.

When you eliminate crash test ratings, drivers of a passenger car were over seven times more likely to be killed in a head-on car accident when compared to SUV drivers. In head-on crashes that involve two passenger cars, the car with the lower car safety rating was found to be 1.28 times more likely to result in the driver’s death.

Soon after the first SUVs were introduced to the American consumer, the vehicles began experiencing massive problems with rollover crashes. After fixing some design flaws, the number of SUV rollovers became much lower. Today, despite the crash test data ranking, large SUVs are among some of the safest vehicles on the road, providing excellent outcomes for drivers involved in head-on collisions with a smaller and lighter passenger vehicle.

In fact, University at Buffalo researchers determined that passenger vehicles with high safety ratings may provide nothing more than a false sense of security for buyers. When buying a car, researchers suggest buyers take into consideration the superior safety outcome of an SUV during a head-on crash with a passenger vehicle.

More Information

Every year, thousands of Bay Area drivers are involved in head-on collisions. Unfortunately, these car accidents can happen even if you take every safety precaution into account. Despite having a large SUV with the best safety equipment or consistently driving in a responsible manner, you can’t plan for everything…especially the negligence of other drivers.

If you suffered serious injury or the loss of a loved one due to a car accident in Alameda County, Sonoma County, San Mateo County or anywhere in the Bay Area, the experienced San Francisco personal injury attorneys at the law firm of Nelson C. Barry are here to help. Call our office today at (415) 587-0550 to schedule your free consultation and case evaluation.

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