Drive that sports utility vehicle and improve road safety

So-called safety and consumer advocates have long preached that sports utility vehicles (SUVs) and light trucks are roadway menaces. Pity the fate of the driver of a lighter-weight, conventional vehicle unfortunate enough to tangle with one.

But two professors of economics at Rutgers University in the U.S.A. recently published a detailed study of light-truck and SUV accidents from 1994 to 1997. Douglas Coate and James Vander-Hoff found that the larger, heavier vehicles are safer for occupants in single-car crashes and multi-car accidents.

The overall point they make is simple, but often overlooked. While a collision between two light cars might kill everyone in both vehicles, passengers riding in a truck involved in a car-truck crash are more likely to survive – thus, a net saving in lives.

  • During the years covered by the study, registrations of light trucks and SUVs increased by 5 percent – but single-vehicle fatalities per driver decreased 7.5 percent and multiple-vehicle fatalities per driver dipped by 2 percent.

  • Overall, the U.S. has experienced a 50 percent decline in traffic fatalities per vehicle over the past two decades, just when light-truck registrations were doubling.

  • The authors of the study statistically controlled for other factors which were improving highway safety over the period.

  • They concluded that the "increased safety to occupants of light trucks outweighs potential increases in fatalities to occupants of other vehicles."

    Source: Brock Yates (Car and Driver magazine), SUVs Mean Safer Roads, Wall Street Journal, April 5, 2001.

    For text (WSJ subscribers) 5024.htm

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