An Analysis of Traffic Deaths by Vehicle Type and Model

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This study compares the risk of death in traffic accidents, depending on type of vehicle and vehicle model. Here, risk is driver deaths per year per million vehicle sales, for model years 1995–1999. Two risks are evaluated: the risk to the driver of the vehicle model in question in all types of crashes and the risk to the drivers of other vehicles involved in crashes with the model in question. The sum of those risks is the combined risk. Our main results are that sport utility vehicles (SUVs) are not necessarily safer for their drivers than cars; on average they are as risky as the average midsize or large car, and no safer than many of the most popular compact and subcompact models. Minivans and import luxury cars have the safest records. If combined risk is considered, most cars are safer than the average SUV, while pickup trucks are much less safe than all other types. Characteristics of the drivers of certain vehicle types probably have a strong effect on safety. For example, sports cars as driven are extremely risky for their drivers, who tend to be young males, and minivans are extremely safe for their drivers, very few of whom are young males. However, there is no evidence that driver age and sex distributions increase the risk of the average SUV compared to the risk of the average midsize car or a safe smaller car model.

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