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Automobiles most likely to save lives

February 3, 2014

The greatest risk to the lives you love most isn’t a random gunman in the news, a terrorist, or an unexpected sickness.  The #1 killer of those ages 1-34 is a “unexpected” automobile related accident.  But now it’s “expected” you can take action to protect yourself and your family.

Assuming a loved one isn’t driving drunk or aggressively, the odds are that they will get hit by someone who is.  In the rock-paper-scissors of an auto accident, the biggest variable that determines if they are safe or not is the automobile they’re sitting inside when when someone crashes into them.  There is a vast difference in the life protecting abilities of different vehicles.

Automobile Basic Safety.  All cars have to pass a basic Highway safety (NHTSA) test before they can be on the road.  It’s a really, really low threshold.  Beyond that basic safety stamp of approval, there is a difference in safety, and it’s not 15-20%.  After statistical balancing: 232 dead with a dangerous car, only 13 with a safe car.

Extra Safety.  The IIHS is somewhat to safety what Consumer Reports is to reliability. They’re a non-profit insurance organization that puts out information related to auto-safety. Their reports are valuable for the consumer because instead of a salesperson pitching what car or product is reliable or safest, they have massive quantities of data of which vehicle is safest in real world vehicle crashes.  In one analysis, the IIHS reviewed 125,000 accidents that resulted in fatalities. From the safest vehicle to the most dangerous vehicle, equally certified by the NHTSA, you are 21x more likely to die in a fatal accident. It hurts to even think about, but imagine if your brother or sister died in an auto accident, and you found out later they unknowingly bought the wrong car. Incidently, that “worst” 232-death vehicle is the Chevy Blazer, 2-door version, and my sister had a friend’s friend in high school die in an accident in one.

The Study.  It’s a good study. It’s adjusted for sex of the driver (men are 2x more likely, even after making adjustments, to die in accidents? True) and other driver demographics.  It’s adjusted for number of vehicles on the road, it uses confidence intervals. If you stare at the numbers for a bit, you see patterns emerge between automakers: Mitsubishi consistently equals more deaths, and certain automakers protects lives better; and, patterns of different brands inside of single automakers:  my Avalon is somewhat safer than a Camry, which is somewhat safer than a Corolla.

Incidently, greater mass is a significant increaser of safety (in the rock-papper-sissors of car accidents, large beats small). Intuitive. Although it’s interesting to note that trucks are usually much less safe than SUV’s. That wasn’t intuitive.

Safety Search Engine.  The IIHS puts out a safety search engine for determining the safety of different newer vehicles during different years. It’s less useful than the study because it’s much less exact (three categories of good, average, and bad isn’t nearly as good as a precise index, which I like to call the death risk index, which measures degrees of good to bad, which vary enormously), but it still gives critical, real-world based accident and safety ratings.  Sometimes, just a year difference in design of a vehicle, or a single additional feature, can make quite a measurable difference in the vehicle’s safety.

In Summary.  The highest risk to the person you love most in life is probably an auto accident.  It’s easy to focus on gas mileage, reliability, and style and forget about a less tangible criterion, like safety.  Remember, if a loved one is in an accident, the probability of their safety is largely based on the automobile they are sitting inside.  It also makes sense to focus on the vehicle’s safety abilities like your loved ones lives depend on it beyond just the most basic tests.

The article with safety index for different cars is at: http://www.iihs.org/externaldata/srdata/docs/sr4204.pdf.

This is the latest report, the 2012 Highest Safety Rated vehicles: http://www.iihs.org/externaldata/srdata/docs/sr4611.pdf

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