Newer SUVs and pickups pose far fewer risks to people driving cars and minivans, a new study found — after automakers voluntarily agreed in 2003 to make larger vehicles more compatible with smaller vehicles during crashes. In some cases, the risk has fallen by two-thirds, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said. IIHS conducts crash tests and research.
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, the group said. That’s no longer the case for SUVs, and for pickups the higher risk is much less pronounced than it had been. IIHS said 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. The 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.
IIHS attributed the change to both 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. Automakers in 2003 voluntarily agreed to make vehicles more “compatible” in crashes. They agreed to build front ends of SUVs and pickups so that energy-absorbing structures — like bumpers — would line up better with those of cars, reducing the likelihood that an SUV or pickup would override a car in a collision. The 2003 agreement also included enhancing head protection in all vehicles to better protect occupants in side crashes. Many new cars now have 10 airbags as standard protection — far higher than in 2003.
New rules also now require side airbags in all vehicles. All vehicles were required to meet the new compatibility rules by September 2009 — by 2007, 80 percent of SUVs and pickups already met the rules. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asked automakers to address the compatibility issue amid concern about the changing vehicle mix on U.S. roads.
David Shepardson / The Detroit News Washington Bureau