REPORT SPECIAL ISSUE:
DRIVER DEATH RATES
in PDF format
Driver death rates in 1994-97 model cars, passenger vans, pickup trucks,
and utility vehicles during a four year period show a huge range in
the likelihood of dying in some models compared with others. The average
death rate in all passenger vehicles during 1995-98 is 89 per million
registered vehicle years, but the rate for some models is two or three
times as high.
death rates in all crashes plus death rates in multiple-vehicle, single-vehicle,
and single-vehicle rollover crashes are computed for 156 passenger vehicle
models with at least 120,000 registered vehicle years or 20 driver deaths
during calendar years 1995-98. The death rates for each model represent
the reported number of driver deaths divided by the model's number of
registered vehicle years. Death rates also are computed by weight class
within body style groups. Data are from the federal government's Fatality
Analysis Reporting System and registration counts from The Polk Company.
the vehicles, exposure varies considerably. For example, the exposure
for passenger vans weighing 3,500-3,999 pounds is more than 5 million
registered years, while for the lightest station wagons exposure is
fewer than 200,000 years. Because of this variability, 95 percent confidence
intervals were computed with upper and lower bounds indicating the precision
of the computed death rates for all crash types.
computed rates reflect the influence of vehicle designs plus their patterns
of use and the demographics of their drivers. Comparisons among vehicles
should be interpreted with these factors in mind.
and heavier vehicles are better: Two important characteristics influencing
crash outcome are vehicle size and weight, which are strongly related.
The smaller, lighter vehicles in each class generally have higher death
rates. (See Table 1.)
heavier vehicles generally have lower death rates, the effects of additional
weight tend to diminish as vehicles get heavier and heavier -- for example,
among utility vehicles and pickups weighing more than 4,000 pounds.
This makes sense because an increase of 500 pounds is much less significant
among vehicles that already weigh 4,000 pounds than it is among cars
weighing only 2,500 pounds.
vehicles with the lowest death rates are larger, heavier passenger vans.
Rates for these vehicles likely reflect their use patterns as well as
their larger, more protective designs.
cars generally have higher death rates than four-door models weighing
about the same. This is true except for cars that weigh 3,500 pounds
or more, among which death rates in two- and four-door models are about
any given weight class, pickup trucks have the highest driver death
rates, and four-wheel-drive pickups are the worst. High single-vehicle
rollover death rates are major contributors to the poor overall rates
in these vehicles. The heaviest four-wheel-drive pickups (5,000+ pounds)
have a death rate of 109 per million registered vehicle years, and the
single-vehicle rollover death rate is 54 per million. In contrast, the
corresponding rates for four-door cars weighing about half as much as
the heavy pickups are 85 and 21.
large part because of their high centers of gravity, both utility vehicles
and pickup trucks in most weight classes have relatively high driver
death rates in single-vehicle rollover crashes. A somewhat surprising
-- and as yet unexplained -- finding is that utility vehicles weighing
less than 3,500 pounds have lower rollover death rates than two-door
cars of comparable weight.
among similar vehicles: The nonvehicle factors that can influence
death rates (use patterns and driver demographics) are less likely to
vary within vehicle body style/size groups than across groups. Yet even
within groups, big differences often exist. Consider the Honda Civic's
rate of 47 deaths per million registered vehicle years, which is much
lower than rates for many other small four-door cars. The Nissan Sentra's
rate of 100 per million, for example, is much higher, as are rates for
the Geo Prizm (125 per million), Dodge/Plymouth Neon (129), and Kia
rate differences abound even among vehicles of similar size
and weight. The Honda Civic's overall death rate is much lower
than rates for other small four-door cars like the Nissan Sentra
and Dodge Neon. The Ford Explorer's death rate is lower than
the Isuzu Rodeo's -- a difference explained by the Rodeo's much
higher death rate in single-vehicle crashes and rollovers.
upper confidence bound for the Civic's death rate is below the lower
confidence bounds for the other four cars. This means the lower rate
for the Civic isn't due to chance, and it seems likely that differences
in the designs of the vehicles play a significant role in the differences
between the Honda Civic and the other small cars.
death rates in midsize sports cars: The vehicles with the highest
death rates are all sports cars -- the Chevrolet Camaro, Camaro convertible,
and Pontiac Firebird. These three models have very high death rates
in single-vehicle crashes, and this has been true model year after model
year (see Status Report, Oct. 9, 1996). The single-vehicle death rates,
including high rollover rates despite low centers of gravity, reflect
both the performance capabilities of the sports cars and the risk-taking
characteristics of many of their drivers.
results for specific vehicle models: For a very large luxury car,
the Lincoln Town Car's death rate is surprisingly high. In part, this
reflects the concentration of elderly people among Town Car drivers.
Fifty-six percent of the people killed in crashes of this car during
1995-98 were 65 years or older, compared with 15 percent of all fatally
Lincoln Mark VIII, a large luxury coupe, also has a high death rate,
but only 15 percent of its fatally injured drivers were 65 or older.
The Mark VIII's high rate is mostly because of single-vehicle crash
deaths, which are more frequent in two-door cars and coupes.
death rate in single-vehicle rollover crashes for the four-wheel-drive
Jeep Cherokee is 15 per million registered vehicle years -- about the
same as in many small and midsize cars. This is a somewhat surprising
result for a small utility vehicle, especially because many larger utility
vehicles have much higher rates of driver death in single-vehicle rollover
crashes. Reasons for the Cherokee's low rate aren't known.
larger utility vehicles, the Ford Explorer's driver death rate of 56
per million registered vehicle years is lower than the Isuzu Rodeo's
99 deaths per million. Death rates in multiple-vehicle crashes differ
from 19 per million for the Explorer to 29 per million for the Rodeo,
but the single-vehicle crash death rates for these two vehicles diverge
far more widely -- 37 per million compared with 70. Much of this divergence
is because of the Rodeo's higher rollover death rate of 46 per million
compared with 26 for the Explorer.
death rates and insurance losses: Fatal crash injuries are relatively
rare, so they have little influence on insurance losses for injuries.
Such losses are dominated by the far more frequent low to moderate severity
collisions and their associated injuries.
there are correlations. Small two- and four-door cars typically have
both high rates of driver death and poor insurance injury claims experience.
An exception is sports cars. These tend to have high driver death rates
because they're more likely to be in high-speed single-vehicle crashes
in which the risk of dying is very high. However, insurance injury results
for sports cars tend to be about average.
2 shows driver death rates in 156 popular passenger vehicles
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more detail, see the expanded
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of insurance injury losses
by passenger vehicle make and model
OUR FAQ PAGE
I'm shopping for a new car. Why can't I find driver death rate
or insurance loss data for new models?
It takes considerable time to gather and tabulate the real-world
data needed to provide statistically significant results on new
models. Complete vehicle registration data for each model year
typically are released about two years later, and data on fatalities
are first available approximately nine months after the end of
the calendar year. Similarly, it takes time to amass sufficient
insurance claims information to provide meaningful results for
a range of vehicles. For vehicles that have not been fundamentally
redesigned, previous model year results are good predictors of
the current model's experience.