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Old 06-11-2011, 03:40 PM   #1
shikataganai
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PWN3D Which car or truck is the safest?

[crossposted from my blog with a hat tip to the Non-Subaru N&R thread referencing the Autoweek article that I mention below]

Background

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety just released its 2011 status report regarding driver death rates. (I blogged about the prior report in January.) With this new report has come a rash of news articles, such as this one in Autoweek, with the rather bold claims that SUVs have turned the tide, have stopped rolling over, and are now safer than cars.

Well, is this true? The short answer is that "it depends on the vehicle" and as such I encourage you to look at the report's vehicle-by-vehicle driver death statistics itself in order to find your vehicle and see where it may stand. For a more general discussion read on.

So what are the safest vehicles?

The real burning question in your mind is which vehicles, as driven by real life humans, are the safest. (More on that later.) Well, here's that list:



True to the headlines, there are indeed a lot of SUVs and large vehicles in general amongst the safest. This isn't to say that SUVs are necessarily safer as a rule:

Quote:
1. Statistically all of the vehicles with driver death rates this low are basically in a dead heat: "0" here probably just reflects sampling error. (As a concrete example, the confidence interval for the Mercedes E-Class AWD death rate is [0-43].)

2. Also note that in this list of 26 vehicles there are 7 cars, 3 minivans, and even 1 pickup truck. It's not all SUVs.

3. The cutoff point of 22 is arbitrary, and, as I mention above, not really relevant statistically. Consider vehicles with death rates under 40 instead, still a very good figure, and you get a different mix of vehicles, with 31 SUVs and 30 cars or minivans among the 72 vehicles in total. You can check my work here if you're interested in the raw data.
All that said, it is indeed striking that there no small cars at all amongst the safest vehicles, only "small" trucks that aren't really small at all... This begs the question: Is bigger better?



While overweight and obesity continue to drive our health care costs into the stratosphere, excess weight seems to be good when it's in the form of a vehicle. Heavier vehicles do seem to lead to lower rates of driver deaths, and at any given vehicle weight SUVs as a segment have lower driver deaths than cars. Furthermore, these data appear to show that SUVs are no more likely than cars to cause death by rolling over, independent of vehicle weight. This reduction in rollovers is likely due to better, more car-like unibody designs and widespread adoption of electronic stability control.

While this seems to be common sense, it actually isn't. As I blogged about before, this wasn't always true: while typically safer in multi-vehicle collisions due to their mass, SUVs used to roll over and kill their drivers at rates far higher than now seen, with resultant high single-vehicle accident death rates. This is something new in the past 6 years of vehicle design and construction, in other words.

Not everything makes sense to me regarding the "bigger is better" argument. If height and weight are the only factors at play, why do pickup trucks have higher driver death rates at any given weight than SUVs, let alone higher than cars? Could it be that bro-tatos in pickup trucks drive worse than latte-sipping soccer moms in SUVs? Also, does the subset of cars that only includes luxury cars, midsize cars, and large cars do better than the aggregate group of "cars" in general (including tiny cars and sports cars)? I don't know the answer to these questions.

Limitations/Glitches in the Matrix

The data are adjusted for "driver age and gender, calendar year, vehicle age, and vehicle density at the garaging location," but even so are no doubt very skewed. Speeding, substance abuse, and careless driving habits vary significantly across the population, and specific vehicles will be driven and crashed by skewed samples of the population. Even after attempting to correct for demographic factors as the researchers have done, the driver death data are an imperfect proxy for vehicle safety in isolation, which is what we really care about.

Another limitation is that there is great variation in driver death rates within classes of vehicles (e.g., small 4-door cars). This variation within a vehicle class is often greater than the global variation between cars, SUVs, and trucks. For instance, a Honda Accord and a Chevrolet Malibu are both midsize 4-door cars, yet Accord drivers die at a rate of 19 [confidence interval: 13-25] while Malibu drivers die at a rate of 99 [80-118]. Therefore one should not make across the board claims about the safety of "cars" or "SUVs" without a specific example in mind.

There also must be driver effects that are not being controlled for adequately. The best evidence for this is the varying death rates between badge-engineered platform-mates that only differ superficially. Examples: the Ford Crown Victoria's driver death rate of 33 [27-38] compared to the Mercury Grand Marquis's 57 [50-65]; the Subaru Legacy sedan's 83 [66-100] compared to the Subaru Outback's 40 [34-47]; and the Chrysler Town & Country's 28 [14-42] compared to the Dodge Grand Caravan's 63 [42-84]. Also odd is the sometimes very large variance between 2WD and 4WD models that are otherwise identical: the Nissan XTerra 4WD's 26 [15-38] vs. the Nissan XTerra 2WD's 72 [55-89] is an example in point, with the Nissan Pathfinder demonstrating a similar but less extreme trend.

From the above, we can see that the data aren't perfect. So be it.

Conclusions, or What cars should I avoid?

After staring at these driver death data for several hours I've come to some conclusions:

Quote:
1. Size does matter, and, as such, a SUV, luxury car, or a large car might not be a bad choice. As a rule, lightweight vehicles do not do well when crashed. Even the best models in these minicar, small car, and sports car segments are only middling, and the argument that active safety (maneuverability) trumps passive safety is simply not borne out in the numbers. At the other end of the spectrum, luxury cars as well as midsize and large SUVs generally are very safe in general, as demonstrated by the list of overall safest vehicles atop this post, with only a few poorly performing models in those categories that buck the trend.

2. Design and country of origin matters. Small Korean cars are particularly unsafe although their larger models are acceptable. Based on this and the prior IIHS study's data I would not recommend that anyone ever buy a Kia Rio, for instance. The Chevrolet Colorado, Ford Ranger, Nissan Titan, and Nissan 350Z are also notable for their tendency to roll over and kill their drivers in inordinate numbers. Although these are the most egregious examples (and likely very influenced by driver demographics in the case of the Z car), the moral of the story is that it still pays to look at an individual vehicle's performance rather than just by going by its segment.

3. Most SUVs indeed have been cured of their rollover habit, but some pickups still turn turtle often. The vast majority of SUVs now roll over at comparable if not better rates than do cars. Keep in mind that there exist a few cars and minivans that tend to roll over, with some of the worst offenders-- worse even than any SUV!--the Nissan 350Z, Mitsubishi Eclipse, Mazda 5, Chevrolet Corvette, Pontiac Solstice, and Chevrolet Aveo. Pickup trucks still represent a sore thumb, as some models such as the Nissan Titan, Dodge Ram Super Duty, Ford Ranger, and Chevrolet Colorado roll over with alarming frequency and resultant high mortality.

4. "Going green" will neither kill you nor save your skin. The Toyota Prius is actually the nominally safest small car. It's in a statistical dead heat with the non-hybrid Camry but is edged out slightly by the Camry Hybrid. Similarly, the Civic Hybrid is essentially exactly as safe as the standard Civic. None of these vehicles is particularly safe in the grand scheme, however, even though the hybrid part, per se, isn't doing any harm.
I used to resent the large vehicles that soccer moms throughout the US tend to favor. I thought that they only lent a false sense of security, what with their bulk, high seating position, and, often these days, high "cocooning" door sills. I thought that superior active safety, the increased nimbleness and maneuverability that a smaller, lighter car offers, would trump passive safety when the time of reckoning arrived.

I was wrong.

It turns out that, all other things being equal, physics trumps all... and now, thanks to lower rates of SUV rollovers, "all other things" are indeed equal.



IBtl;dr.

Cliffs Notes: Modern SUVs don't roll over these days. This leaves F = m * a and conservation of momentum as the main actors, so big vehicles reign supreme, more or less.
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Last edited by shikataganai; 06-11-2011 at 10:47 PM.
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Old 06-11-2011, 03:45 PM   #2
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Old 06-11-2011, 03:57 PM   #3
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Roll overs are one thing, but braking has also improved too. Gone are the days of 60-0 distance of 180 feet. Most modern SUVs (even the ladder frame ones) can stop reasonably well thanks to improved brakes and factory tires.

Also, demographics are a huge factor in these "studies". There was another article that stated that the 350z had the highest death rates per 1,000 drivers or vehicles. Is the 350z an inherent death trap? No, given the fact that young Mexicans who prefer automatic variants, over say a Toyota Sienna, you have a retarded study.

Also, just take a look at the data. Why is the 2WD Armada at the bottom, but the 4WD much safer? Does a front axle and transfer case turn Nissan's full sized SUV into a death trap? Obviously computing fatalities per vehicles (or whatever computation used) is virtually meaningless.

Look at your data again. Almost all of the "roll over prone" cars are all sports/sporty cars The rollovers aren't due to vehicle design, but most likely cars driven recklessly or in the case of a lower priced car like an Eclipse or Mazdaspeed 5, are combined with a young and inexperienced driver. You really think it's easier to flip a Corvette versus a Grand Cherokee with its air suspension set to mountain goat on a normal road?

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Old 06-11-2011, 04:01 PM   #4
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**** this thread. Just tell me the best car.
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Old 06-11-2011, 04:03 PM   #5
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I read it, but I don't really care.
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Old 06-11-2011, 04:04 PM   #6
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I don't see the 2011 Mustang or the 2011 F-150 on the list at all, therefore it is invalid by the standards of OT.
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Old 06-11-2011, 04:06 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Full_Clip View Post
Roll overs are one thing, but braking has also improved too. Gone are the days of 60-0 distance of 180 feet. Most modern SUVs (even the ladder frame ones) can stop reasonably well thanks to improved brakes and factory tires.
Good point.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Full_Clip View Post
Also, demographics are a huge factor in these "studies". There was another article that stated that the 350z had the highest death rates per 1,000 drivers or vehicles. Is the 350z an inherent death trap? No, given the fact that young Mexicans who prefer automatic variants, over say a Toyota Sienna, you have a retarded study.
See that whole discussion of "limitations" that I threw in just to address exactly this. For what it's worth/just for the record, the data were corrected for "driver age and gender, calendar year, vehicle age, and vehicle density at the garaging location".

Quote:
Originally Posted by Full_Clip View Post
Also, just take a look at the data. Why is the 2WD Armada at the bottom, but the 4WD much safer? Does a front axle and transfer case turn Nissan's full sized SUV into a death trap? Obviously computing fatalities per vehicles (or whatever computation used) is virtually meaningless.
That's just a statistical anomaly, and I addressed that, too. All the cars under 30, basically, are statistically equivalent. That M-B E-Class with the "0" fatality rate had a confidence interval of 0-43, if that means anything to you.

What doesn't make sense to me is the huge jump between 4WD and RWD XTerras and Pathfinders, but, again, that's discussed in teh wall o' text.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Full_Clip View Post
Look at your data again. Almost all of the "roll over prone" cars are all sports/sporty cars The rollovers aren't due to vehicle design, but most likely cars driven recklessly or in the case of a lower priced car like an Eclipse or Mazdaspeed 5, are combined with a young and inexperienced driver. You really think it's easier to flip a Corvette versus a Grand Cherokee with its air suspension set to mountain goat on a normal road?

chris619
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Full_Clip will still use standard information to base his safety decision purchase.
There is no "Mazdaspeed 5". The Mazda5 is a mini-minivan. While I agree that the 350Z, Eclipse, and Corvette stats likely reflect the yahoos driving them, it's hard to make the same claim for a minivan...
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Old 06-11-2011, 04:07 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by chu my pu View Post
**** this thread. Just tell me the best car.
Marauder. Duh.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Predwolf View Post
I don't see the 2011 Mustang or the 2011 F-150 on the list at all, therefore it is invalid by the standards of OT.
These data were just released this week, but only covers 2005-2008 model year vehicles, iirc. Check back in 2014.

Last edited by shikataganai; 08-15-2012 at 01:03 AM.
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Old 06-11-2011, 04:09 PM   #9
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I would totally drive a Mazdaspeed5.
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Old 06-11-2011, 04:39 PM   #10
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In a perfect world, everyone would drive an E Class Mercedes.
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Old 06-29-2011, 01:14 AM   #11
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The National Bureau of Economic Research just released a working paper relevant to this thread. Penned by Michael Anderson and Maximilian Auffhammer (both of Berkeley), it's titled The Pounds That Kill: The External Costs of Vehicle Weight. Since I have access through hook and crook and you all probably don't, here's the PDF:

https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&p...0NTU1&hl=en_US

Short summary/their abstract:

Quote:
Heavier vehicles are safer for their own occupants but more hazardous for the occupants of other vehicles. In this paper we estimate the increased probability of fatalities from being hit by a heavier vehicle in a collision. We show that, controlling for own-vehicle weight, being hit by a vehicle that is 1,000 pounds heavier results in a 47% increase in the baseline fatality probability. Estimation results further suggest that the fatality risk is even higher if the striking vehicle is a light truck (SUV, pickup truck, or minivan). We calculate that the value of the external risk generated by the gain in fleet weight since 1989 is approximately 27 cents per gallon of gasoline. We further calculate that the total fatality externality is roughly equivalent to a gas tax of $1.08 per gallon. We consider two policy options for internalizing this external cost: a gas tax and an optimal weight varying mileage tax. Comparing these options, we find that the cost is similar for most vehicle.
I find this interesting because they look at the external cost of heavier vehicles, namely the increased risk they pose to other drivers, rather than looking at the internal (lower) risk of driver injury as do the IIHS data I wrote about above. Being economists, they also look at how these externalities might be internalized.

What sort of actions would be necessary to internalize these external costs? From the abstract, we see the fatality cost is equivalent to a gas tax hike of $1.08 per gallon (recall that the current Federal gas tax is all of 18.4 cents per gallon with state and local taxes adding roughly another 20 cents depending on where you live). Therefore, the gas tax would have to be raised by this much to "level the playing field", if you will. As a pragmatist I note that trebling the total gas tax is simply not going to happen. If anything, populist pandering will lead to a gas tax holiday before the next election.

Assuming sufficient parking and operating space, which is generally true across non-NYC America, and assuming that one isn't forced to buy the cheapest Kia Rio out there due to being flat broke, this leaves altruism towards other drivers and environmental conscience as the prime motivators in choosing a smaller vehicle. I think altruism is misplaced here, as the reality is that a large portion of our vehicle fleet is in poor condition and driven by unlicensed, uninsured, impaired, or at the very least distracted drivers. As for environmental conscience, we've already covered that one at some length before.

Call it an "arms race" as these authors do, but unless the (undeniably real) externalities are accounted for in the pricetag there's no real incentive to go small, in my opinion.
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Old 06-29-2011, 02:31 AM   #12
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Holy **** you love typing.
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Old 06-29-2011, 02:37 AM   #13
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Holy **** you love typing.

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Old 06-29-2011, 04:39 AM   #14
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Holy **** you love typing.
I'm forced to be up all night this week due to my work schedule so might as well do something with that time when not busy with work itself...
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Old 06-29-2011, 04:44 AM   #15
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Call it an "arms race" as these authors do, but unless the (undeniably real) externalities are accounted for in the pricetag there's no real incentive to go small, in my opinion.
Actually, in my vain effort at brevity and to make a coherent point, I intentionally left out a big reason to "go small": sportiness. As a motorcyclist I'm well aware of the tradeoff between vehicle size/safety and fun factor. For most normal/non-car board people this doesn't come into play, though.
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Old 06-29-2011, 06:58 AM   #16
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You just replied to yourself...
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Old 06-29-2011, 07:41 AM   #17
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I read some of the text-wall and wondered...

Does the study factor influence of alcohol and drugs, age of the driver (with very old and young people dropped), the driving conditions (snow, rain,...), time of day, speed and other factors? no then without all those things normalized or seperated, the study is meaningless.

An older friend of mine occasionally has a few beers and gets into a laughable rant about how its all a conspiracy since back in his day no one wore seatbelts or used car-seats for kids, cars had no safety-glass or airbags or ABS and had bad brakes, there were way more drunk drivers and speeders on the road, cars were so heavy with no side-impact beams or crumple zones and had steering wheels, pedals and dashboards that would impale you... and now (to him) it seems just as many people are dying on the roads. He sure does a very funny yet half serious misdirected diatribe.

The safest car would prob be an older big Volvo at 2pm on a residential street in summer driven by an older lady. A flatbill wearing doofus at 11:30pm on the freeway in a 1997 Kia Sportage in heavy rain/snow - not so much.
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Old 06-29-2011, 09:00 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by FellowTraveller View Post
I read some of the text-wall and wondered...

Does the study factor influence of alcohol and drugs, age of the driver (with very old and young people dropped), the driving conditions (snow, rain,...), time of day, speed and other factors? no then without all those things normalized or seperated, the study is meaningless.

An older friend of mine occasionally has a few beers and gets into a laughable rant about how its all a conspiracy since back in his day no one wore seatbelts or used car-seats for kids, cars had no safety-glass or airbags or ABS and had bad brakes, there were way more drunk drivers and speeders on the road, cars were so heavy with no side-impact beams or crumple zones and had steering wheels, pedals and dashboards that would impale you... and now (to him) it seems just as many people are dying on the roads. He sure does a very funny yet half serious misdirected diatribe.

The safest car would prob be an older big Volvo at 2pm on a residential street in summer driven by an older lady. A flatbill wearing doofus at 11:30pm on the freeway in a 1997 Kia Sportage in heavy rain/snow - not so much.
From my OP, here's what they corrected for:

Quote:
The data are adjusted for "driver age and gender, calendar year, vehicle age, and vehicle density at the garaging location," but even so are no doubt very skewed. Speeding, substance abuse, and careless driving habits vary significantly across the population, and specific vehicles will be driven and crashed by skewed samples of the population. Even after attempting to correct for demographic factors as the researchers have done, the driver death data are an imperfect proxy for vehicle safety in isolation, which is what we really care about.
You're right that that still leaves many factors hanging loose in the breeze that may skew the results.

Your older friend is simply incorrect in regard to his point about cars seeming equally safe back in the day. Below is a link to the NHTSA data. Take a look at the far right column, fatality rate per 100M vehicle miles traveled. The downward trend is unmistakable, and I'd wager a large sum that it's been going consistently downward for far longer than the 1994-2009 period surveyed.

http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Trends/TrendsGeneral.aspx
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Old 06-29-2011, 09:17 AM   #19
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shikataganai, I really like your posts and the research you put into them. Reminds me of what I'd do if I had time on my hands.

However, they are too long for me to sit and read when pretending to work, so I can't read them.

Cliff notes doesn't help because its too cliff-notey. I need a little more data than that.
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Old 06-29-2011, 09:52 AM   #20
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You just replied to yourself...
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Old 06-29-2011, 09:53 AM   #21
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If I have to make a choice about what car to put my family in, it is going to be the one that keeps them the safest. Which right now looks like a newer SUV that has good traction control.
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Old 06-29-2011, 01:03 PM   #22
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Marauder. Duh.
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Old 06-29-2011, 05:40 PM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JjSwee
shikataganai, I really like your posts and the research you put into them. Reminds me of what I'd do if I had time on my hands.

However, they are too long for me to sit and read when pretending to work, so I can't read them.

Cliff notes doesn't help because its too cliff-notey. I need a little more data than that.
"Conclusions" section from my OP is a reasonable length to read at work, no?
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Old 06-29-2011, 11:01 PM   #24
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Did not see that part.
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Old 06-29-2011, 11:20 PM   #25
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