NHTSA and IIHS Fail to Identify the Most Safe Vehicles
Vehicle crash tests measure crashworthiness—the ability of a vehicle to protect the occupants during impact with a stationary barrier, such as a bridge abutment. A vehicle's weight is not indicative of its crashworthiness—some small, light-weight vehicles have excellent crashworthiness, while many large SUVs and pick-up trucks do not. However, when two vehicles collide head-on the relative weight of your vehicle compared with your opponent's vehicle determines the severity of forces you experience.Since 60% of traffic accidents involve multiple vehicles you must consider both crashworthiness and size/weight to identify a safe vehicle.
There are two agencies that perform crash testing for rating the crashworthiness of vehicles sold in the United States: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)—an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)—an organization created and funded by approximately one hundred automobile insurance companies. Crash tests performed by each agency use different protocols and their results complement each other, which is why the agencies only agree about half the time as to which vehicles have the best crashworthiness. You must review ratings posted by both agencies to evaluate the crashworthiness of any vehicle.
Next, you need to interpret the ratings. This is not as easy as it may first appear considering that the majority of vehicles (60% of all 2011-2017 vehicles) are rated “Top Pick” by IIHS; 45% are rated “5-Stars Overall” by NHTSA. However, of approximately 1800 vehicles with sufficient data for evaluation, only 14% are both “Top Pick” and “5-Stars Overall”. You may be surprised to learn that many of these "Safe" vehicles do not rate in the top quartile in some individual crash modes. Specifically, NHTSA designates some vehicles as "5-Stars Overall" despite receiving only "4-Stars" in side impact and/or in frontal impact. Also, IIHS designates some pre-2014 vehicles as “Top Pick”, despite receiving “Poor” or “Marginal” ratings in the small-overlap frontal test. As a general rule-of-thumb your risk of serious injury/death increases 30%-50% when going from either agency's best rating category to their 2nd best, i.e., 5-stars-to-4-stars, or Good-to-Acceptable.
After you cull from the safest 14% list those vehicles with ratings below the top quartile in one or more individual crash mode, the resulting short list consists of approximately 5% of vehicles, all with top-quartile crashworthiness ratings in every crash mode. Included within this 5% list however are light-weight vehicles that need to be removed from consideration. Although both agencies warn the consumer to avoid light-weight vehicles their ratings data are presented without factoring in this important consideration. Separately, IIHS publishes data showing the dramatic correlation between vehicle weight and fatalities in multi-vehicle accidents. For example, these data show that drivers were twice as likely to die in a 2,500 lb. car as in a 4,000 lb. car; 4x as likely as in a 4,500 lb. SUV. These data enable you to compare fatality rates of vehicles based solely on class/weight, and as a practical matter you can avoid vehicles that have an inherent disadvantage compared with the average vehicle you are likely to collide with, such as an average weight (3,200 lb.) passenger car.
Once you remove vehicles whose class/weight have a higher driver fatality rate than the average weight passenger car, the 5% list is reduced to only 3% of vehicles. These 3% are the only vehicles evaluated to be “safest”.
I created this website to enable consumers to easily identify the safest vehicles.
by Mike Dulberger, Founder, Informed For Life
Every effort has been made to be accurate and objective, however all information
is subject to errors and omissions.
For Life is a Connecticut nonprofit organization
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