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Does vehicle type trump safety rating in head-on collisions?

When deciding which car to purchase, consumers often rely heavily on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's crash safety ratings to help select a vehicle that they hope will help keep them safer in the event of a crash. According to a recent study, however, staying safe in a traffic accident may have far less to do with safety ratings than with the types of vehicles involved.

In a study of more than 83,000 head-on traffic collisions over a period of 15 years, researchers at the University of Buffalo determined that occupants of smaller vehicles are far more likely to be killed in collisions with larger vehicles, regardless of each vehicle's safety rating. Specifically, the researchers examined collisions between passenger cars and sport utility vehicles, or SUVs.

Fatalities far more likely in passenger cars

Without taking the vehicles' relative safety ratings into account, drivers of passenger cars are seven times more likely to be killed than SUV drivers in head-on collisions involving both vehicle types, researchers found. The risk of death was higher or lower depending on which vehicle had the higher safety rating, but drivers of passenger cars were always more at risk, the study revealed.

The results of the study become more nuanced when the relative safety ratings of each vehicle are taken into account. In head-on crashes in which the SUV has a higher safety rating, the driver of a passenger car is nearly 10 times more likely to be killed if the SUV has a higher safety rating. If the passenger car's safety rating exceeds that of the SUV, the risk for passenger car occupants is reduced somewhat but remains high: In a head-on crash with a lower-rated SUV, passenger car drivers are still nearly four times more likely to be killed.

Risk factors

One factor affecting the likelihood of traffic fatalities in head-on collisions is vehicle weight; drivers in heavier vehicles, like SUVs, are more likely to survive than those in passenger cars and other smaller vehicles.

However, even in vehicles of similar weights, SUV drivers are less likely to be killed in a head-on collision than drivers of smaller cars. This is largely due to the way the vehicles are designed; because SUVs tend to be taller than passenger cars, their bumpers are more likely to ride over the front of a shorter oncoming vehicle in a head-on crash, potentially crushing that vehicle's passenger compartment.

Seeking compensation after a crash

After a serious car accident, bills and expenses can quickly add up for someone who has been injured or lost a family member. While the medical bills and hospitalization expenses resulting from a crash are often financially devastating on their own, the financial situation may get even tougher for those whose injuries interfere with their ability to earn a living.

If you have been involved in a car crash and would like to learn more about how you may be able to obtain monetary compensation for the losses you and your family have suffered, consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer in your area.