Cars That Are Heavier, Pricier Protect Drivers and Passengers

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More than three million people are injured each year in U.S. auto accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but you can bring down the likelihood of being among them by spending more on a car, according to a new study out of the University of Buffalo.

The study, presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine in San Diego last week, can be summed up with a common warning: you get what you pay for. Large, heavy trucks and SUVs — which tend to be pricier — were associated with the lowest numbers of injuries.

“The most important point of our study is that vehicle weight and price have a positive relationship with vehicle safety,” said Dr. Dietrich V. Jehle, professor of emergency medicine in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “For every additional $10,000 you spend, injuries go down by almost 12%. We also found that for every 1,000-pound increase in weight, vehicles were 19% safer.”

Researchers took a very different approach to assessing vehicle safety than industry-standard ratings, conducting a review of 360 vehicle models from 2010-2012 based on insurance claims tracked by the Highway Loss Data Initiative (a nonprofit funded by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety).

Vehicles such as the Dodge Ram 2500 mega cab, GMC Sierra 1500, Ford F-150, GMC Sierra 2500 crew cab, Land Rover Range Rover, Chevrolet Silverado 2500 crew cab, Land Rover LR4, Ford F-250 super cab, and Volvo XC60 were associated with the lowest frequency of personal injury claims.

Some of the country’s most popular cars, including the Honda Accord and Civic and Toyota Corolla, landed in the least safe category, based on personal injury claims.

Jehle said that there are both advantages and disadvantages to looking at claims data as an indicator of safety. On the one hand, doing so corrects for the fact that NHTSA crash ratings are based on tests that don’t always reflect real-world crash conditions involving multiple vehicles. But on the other hand, personal injury data doesn’t account for factors such as miles driven per vehicle.

Safety Trends in Passenger Vehicles

In general, passenger vehicles of all types have gotten safer in recent years.

According to a report published at the beginning of the year by the IIHS, the chances of dying in an accident while driving or riding in a late-model vehicle have fallen by over 33% in the last three years alone.

Vehicle improvements have led to numerous saved lives, that report concluded, including 7,700 fewer deaths in 2012 alone than there would have been had the vehicles had the same features as 1985 models.

And a study released in late April found that consumers are becoming more and more willing to invest money in high-tech safety features, choosing them even above features promising entertainment or greater convenience. The 2015 U.S. Tech Choice Study, conducted by J.D. Power, found that three out of the top five most-wanted car technologies were related to collision protection.

Those three preferred technologies were blind-spot detection systems, night vision and enhanced collision mitigation systems. The study’s authors concluded that drivers are becoming increasingly comfortable with autonomous or self-driving features, and want them in their cars to reduce the risk of crashes.

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