Vehicle size trumps Safety Rating in head-on collisions

Since 1978, drivers have come to rely on crash safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as an aid in choosing safer cars. But when two vehicles collide, there is a lot more to consider than those ratings alone - in fact, according to recent research, the most important factors are vehicle size and weight.

In a retrospective study the University of Buffalo, researchers reviewed reports of over 83,000 head-on vehicle accidents between 1995 and 2010. The study concluded that in collisions between passenger cars and sport utility vehicles, a far greater number of fatalities occurred among the occupants to the passenger car, regardless of the safety ratings of either vehicle.

Fatalities more likely in smaller vehicles

According to the study, in a head-on collision between a passenger car and an SUV with an inferior safety rating, occupants of the car were four times as likely to be killed. When the SUV in the collision had a superior safety rating, the passenger car fatalities leaped to 10 times as likely.

Vehicle weight is among the main factors in collision survivability, but even when the vehicles are of similar weight, ride height plays an important factor. A taller vehicle's bumper can miss the shorter vehicle's bumper entirely and strike the passenger compartment, often killing the occupants of the smaller car.

Crash safety ratings are still valuable resources for determining a vehicle's performance in a crash, but the findings of studies like this one indicate that even a vehicle with a good safety rating provides only limited protection against larger and heavier vehicles.

Driver behavior is another key factor

While vehicle size, weight and safety rating are all important factors that may affect the likelihood of injury or death in any given collision, driver behavior can also profoundly affect the risk of traffic accidents. Any vehicle can be quickly transformed into a deadly weapon when it is driven by a reckless, aggressive or inattentive driver. In these cases, even the most advanced safety features can only go so far toward protecting a vehicle's occupants from other drivers.

Some car accidents are truly nobody's fault, but many are caused by some type of negligence or error, such as speeding or other traffic violations, distracted driving, or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. People who kill or injure others in vehicle accidents as a result of their negligent driving can be required to provide monetary compensation for the harm they cause, including medical bills, lost income and other financial damage.

To learn more about your rights and options if you or a loved one has been hurt in a traffic accident, contact a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer in your area.