According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, today's pickup trucks and SUVs pose less of a threat to drivers in cars and minivans than they did in the past. For the first time in recent memory, trucks and SUVs aren't more likely to be involved in crashes that involve fatalities than cars and minivans of the same weight. Between 2000 and 2001, trucks and SUVs weighing between 3,000 and 3,499 pounds were involved in accidents with cars and minivans that resulted in a traffic fatality at a rate of 44 deaths per million registered vehicles.

IIHS says that number has fallen to 16 deaths per million registered vehicles between 2008 and 2009. The research institute says that the decline is largely attributable to better crash protection in cars and minivans thanks to the addition of side-curtain airbags and more advanced crash structure, but the fact that modern SUVs and trucks now use front ends designed to better align with those crash structures plays a large role as well. Hit the jump to view the full press release.
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Effort to make SUVs, pickups less deadly to car occupants in crashes is paying off

ARLINGTON, VA - Today's SUVs and pickups pose far less risk to people in cars and minivans than previous generations, a new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows.
Until recently, SUVs and pickups were more likely than cars or minivans of the same weight to be involved in crashes that killed occupants of other cars or minivans. That's no longer the case for SUVs, and for pickups the higher risk is much less pronounced than it had been.

For example, among 1-4-year-old vehicles weighing 3,000-3,499 pounds, SUVs were involved in crashes that killed car/minivan occupants at a rate of 44 deaths per million registered vehicle years in 2000-01. That rate dropped by nearly two-thirds to 16 in 2008-09. In comparison, cars and minivans in the same weight category were involved in the deaths of other car/minivan occupants at a slightly higher rate of 17 per million in 2008-09.

The researchers attribute much of the change to two things: improved crash protection in the cars and minivans, thanks to side airbags and stronger structures, and newer designs of SUVs and pickups that align their front-end energy-absorbing structures with those of cars.

Lifesaving cooperation: The more compatible designs are the result of efforts by automakers, the government, and the Institute to address the problem of mismatched vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asked automakers to address the compatibility issue amid concern about the changing vehicle mix on U.S. roads. In response, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Association of Global Automakers, and the Institute led a series of meetings in 2003 to come up with solutions. Participating automakers included BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Isuzu, Kia, Mazda, Mercedes, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, Suzuki, Toyota, and Volkswagen.

The companies agreed to build the front ends of SUVs and pickups so that their energy-absorbing structures would line up better with those of cars, reducing the likelihood that an SUV or pickup would override a car in a collision. Better alignment allows both vehicles' front ends to manage the crash energy, helping to keep it away from the occupant compartments.

The automakers also pledged to strengthen head protection in all vehicles in order to improve outcomes when an SUV or pickup strikes another vehicle in the side. They accomplished this by installing more head-protecting side airbags.

"By working together, the automakers got life-saving changes done quickly," says Joe Nolan, the Institute's chief administrative officer and a co-author of the new study. "The new designs have made a big difference on the road."

The deadline for implementing the compatibility changes was September 2009, but many of the 2004-08 models in the study already complied. Among 2004 models, 54 percent of SUVs and pickups met the front-end requirements, and among 2007 models, 81 percent did.

How the study was done: Institute researchers looked at 1-4-year-old SUVs, pickups, and cars/minivans in 2000-01 and 2008-09 and compared the number of car and minivan occupants killed in 2-vehicle crashes with those models per million registered vehicle years. (A registered vehicle year is 1 vehicle registered for 1 year, 2 for 6 months, etc.) The cars or minivans in which people were killed, known as crash partner vehicles, could be of any age, size, and weight. Data on crash deaths came from the federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System, and registration information came from R.L. Polk & Co.

In both 2000-01 and 2008-09, the number of crash partner deaths generally went up as vehicle weight increased. This isn't surprising since vehicle weight is a key factor in the outcome of crashes. However, in the first period, SUVs were more deadly to people in other vehicles than cars of the same weight, and pickups were more deadly than SUVs.

Between 2000-01 and 2008-09, the rate of crash partner deaths declined for all weight categories of all 3 types of vehicles, except the relatively small group of cars and minivans weighing 4,500-4,999 pounds. Improvements in occupant protection in the crash partner cars and minivans helped lower the number of deaths. The spread of ESC, as well as changes in travel patterns due to the sluggish economy and high gas prices, likely also contributed to this decline.

Crash partner death rates for pickups, SUVs, and cars/minivans in 2008-09 weren't as far apart as they were in 2000-01. Among 1-4-year-old vehicles in a given weight category, an SUV usually posed no more risk to people in a car or minivan than another car or minivan. Pickups still fatally injured people in cars and minivans at a higher rate, particularly in frontal crashes.

"Pickups lagged behind other vehicles in getting ESC, and designs of some top-selling models were slow to change. Those facts help explain why the numbers didn't improve as much for pickups as for SUVs," Nolan says. "Also, pickups often carry loads, so the trucks in these crashes could be a good deal heavier than their curb weights."

The results don't contradict the basic physics of crashes. Size and weight are still key, and a small, lightweight vehicle is going to fare worse than a big, heavy vehicle in a crash. In general, SUVs and pickups are heavier than cars, so in that sense different types of vehicles always will be mismatched. But the study shows that, beyond weight, differences in vehicle styles don't have to be a safety problem.
Safer SUVs: The study of car/minivan crash partner deaths is the latest piece of Institute research showing that SUVs aren't the safety concern they once were. Recently calculated driver death rates for 2005-08 models show that drivers of SUVs are among the least likely to die in a crash. That change is due largely to ESC.

"Whether you're in an SUV or just sharing the road with one," Nolan says, "recent improvements to these vehicles are making you safer."


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 32 Comments
      You guy
      • 3 Years Ago
      How about you crash a full-sized truck in to a Camry and get back to me.
        Tolitz Rosel
        • 3 Years Ago
        @You guy
        How about you crash a full-sized truck into ANYTHING and then get back to me? :)
      Paul P.
      • 3 Years Ago
      It's probably because cars and minivans weigh as much as SUVs nowadays. ;-)
      citidriver
      • 3 Years Ago
      There are many cars in that weight range, but how many SUVs or minivans under 3499 lbs.? Besides, you can't choose what weight vehicle will crash into you.
      dwinsmith
      • 3 Years Ago
      Most SUVs are far more than 3000-3500 lbs. so isn't is possible that now you're just more likely to be in an accident with a vehicle between 4000-4500 lbs?? Idk. It seems they left out some key data.
        stickshiftn6901
        • 3 Years Ago
        @dwinsmith
        left out some key american suvs is more like it ... these plastic rav4's or crv's dont stand a chance
          stickshiftn6901
          • 3 Years Ago
          @stickshiftn6901
          have you even ever looked under a rav 4 or crv ? its all plastic BS ... and where there is metal.... it is weak and thin
          ravenosa
          • 3 Years Ago
          @stickshiftn6901
          Are you just being a pro-American, tough guy meathead or do you have any data to back up your ridiculous claims? Considering the current state of junky SUVs from America, I'd say you'd be much safer in a Japanese/European wagon...
        msspamrefuge
        • 3 Years Ago
        @dwinsmith
        That's more or less what I was thinking; the only trucks, SUVs, or crossovers that regularly fall in the indiciated weight range are dedicated compacts. The average mid/fullsize competitor (a.k.a. the size classes that often vie for most sales within a manufacturer's lineup, if not the country) easily surpasses two tons, and upscale versions of several well-regarded new trucks and and SUVs are now exceeding the two and one-half ton mark.
      tributetodrive
      • 3 Years Ago
      partially because the same people who were driving 30 over in there SUV 10 years ago are now driving 30 over in there prious.
      Derek Ziemba
      • 3 Years Ago
      The last time I drove over a scale in my Ford Ranger it was 3800lbs....
      Justin Campanale
      • 3 Years Ago
      I know several douche bags who think that "anything smaller than a fullsize American car" is a deathtrap.
        WillieD
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Justin Campanale
        I know several douchebags named Justin. Oh, weird coincidence.
        stickshiftn6901
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Justin Campanale
        i know several douchebags that think their land rover is the best thing in the world
      jbm0866
      • 3 Years Ago
      Do I need to point out that a Toyota RAV4 hardly qualifies as a "truck"?
        stickshiftn6901
        • 3 Years Ago
        @jbm0866
        nope ... but what is does qualify more as is "higher yaris"
          Christopher Glowacki
          • 3 Years Ago
          @stickshiftn6901
          stickshift is a troll ravenosa is trying to fight troll with troll, which never works to well when you fight troll opinion with another troll opinion Toyota RAV4... quickly now... name every competitor available in the U.S. market for stickshift: why they are all substantially better than the RAV4, especially the domestic ones for ravenosa: why the RAV4 is substantially better than the entire rest of the lot, especially the domestic ones aaaaaannnnnndddddddd..... DEBATE!!
          ravenosa
          • 3 Years Ago
          @stickshiftn6901
          Unfortunately, American car manufacturers can't even make a single vehicle to compete with these "higher Yaris'" you speak of. Pretty sad, eh?
      spyder550
      • 3 Years Ago
      What about all the giant lifted trucks? I do not understand how/why these monstrosities are legal in the first place. Sometimes I drive my girlfriends Miata and it is a little terrifying with truck grill above my head.
        breakfastburrito
        • 3 Years Ago
        @spyder550
        Nice... let's give the government MORE power... just because you're a coward... I got a paper cut today. Outlaw paper! Please government! Take away all our rights!
          breakfastburrito
          • 3 Years Ago
          @breakfastburrito
          Umm... how can mocking an idiot prevent free speech? Don't know if you've had your eyes peeled, but cops can now arrest you for taking pictures at the mall. Homeland security can tap your phone without probable cause. Peaceable assembly now requires government approval. And complete idiots like yourself, imported ragamuffins who can't even list the rights guaranteed us by the constitution, want a big government nanny state to outlaw trucks?!?! Suck it!
        jtav2002
        • 3 Years Ago
        @spyder550
        There's a difference between legality and enforcement. I can't speak for all states, but several I've been in actually have laws on how far the bumper can be off the ground, and I've heard of people actually getting pulled over for it. I'd imagine in states that have yearly inspections it could be an issue.
      280zevo
      • 3 Years Ago
      maybe bc most suv's are based on cars now, like maybe bc that corolla and rav 4 are basically the same car?! haha these guys are a joke! run a new dodge ram into a corolla or fiat 500, better yet, run it into a new mustang or camaro at 50mph see what happens
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
      • 3 Years Ago
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