The effect of recent trends in vehicle design on U.S. societal fatality risk per vehicle mile traveled, and their projected future relationship with vehicle mass
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently updated its 2003 and 2010 logistic regression analyses of the effect of a reduction in light-duty vehicle mass on US fatality risk per vehicle mile traveled (VMT). The current NHTSA analysis is the most thorough investigation of this issue to date. LBNL's assessment of the analysis indicates that the estimated effect of mass reduction on risk is smaller than in the previous studies, and statistically non-significant for all but the lightest cars. The effects three recent trends in vehicle designs and technologies have on societal fatality risk per VMT are estimated, and whether these changes might affect the relationship between vehicle mass and fatality risk in the future. Side airbags are found to reduce fatality risk in cars, but not necessarily light trucks or CUVs/minivans, struck in the side by another light-duty vehicle; reducing the number of fatalities in cars struck in the side is predicted to reduce the estimated detrimental effect of footprint reduction, but increase the detrimental effect of mass reduction, in cars on societal fatality risk. Better alignment of light truck bumpers with those of other vehicles appears to result in a statistically significant reduction in risk imposed on car occupants; however, reducing this type of fatality will likely have little impact on the estimated effect of mass or footprint reduction on risk. Finally, shifting light truck drivers into safer, car-based vehicles, such as sedans, CUVs, and minivans, would result in larger reductions in societal fatalities than expected from even substantial reductions in the masses of light trucks. A strategy of shifting drivers from truck-based to car-based vehicles would reduce fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions, while improving societal safety.