BERKELEY – A risk analysis by a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researcher and a University of Michigan physicist has turned up some unexpected results about the comparative safety of big and bulky SUVs.
The study by lab Environmental Energy Technologies Division energy analyst Tom Wenzel and University of Michigan professor Marc Ross says most cars are safer than the average sports utility vehicle, and pickup trucks are “much less safe than all other types.” Minivans and import luxury cars have the safest records.
The report, “An Analysis of Traffic Deaths by Vehicle Type and Model,” was prepared for the U.S. Department of Energy and is available for $12 from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy or through its web site at http://aceee.org.
Ross and Wenzel reviewed government statistics on deaths each year for vehicles sold between 1995 and 1999. Their study is among the first to examine the “combined risk” of all drivers involved in a crash, and they also tracked the age, sex and driving style of the typical driver of each vehicle model.
The study found that “sports cars as driven are extremely risky for their drivers, who tend to be young males, and minivans are extremely safe for their drivers, very few of whom are young males,” Wenzel and Ross. They found no evidence that the age and sex of the typical SUV driver increased the risk of the average SUV compared to the risk of the average midsize car or a safe smaller car model.
The safest SUV, the Suburban, has at least a 40 percent higher combined risk than the three safest midsize and large cars, the Avalon, Camry, and Accord, the scientists say in their report.
The analysis found the Chevy Suburban to be the safest SUV, but it was still nowhere near as safe as a Camry or an Accord, and the report says the wide range of risks between different subcompact and compact models is evidence that vehicle quality is a more important safety consideration than weight.
“In looking at all vehicles, cars designed by Honda and Toyota consistently are safer, and weigh less, than comparable cars designed by domestic manufacturers,” Wenzel said. The study found that the safest small cars, the Volkswagen Jetta and Honda Civic, were twice as safe as the comparably sized Chevrolet Cavalier, Ford Escort, and Dodge Neon.
“All the evidence in our study shows that vehicles can be and in fact are being made lighter and more fuel efficient without sacrificing safety,” Wenzel said. “The argument that lowering the weight of cars to achieve high fuel economy has resulted in excess deaths is unfounded.”