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Vehicle Weight and Fatality Risk for Sport Utility Vehicle—versus—Passenger Car Crashes

Mayrose, James PhD; Jehle, Dietrich V. K. MD

The Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection, and Critical Care: October 2002 - Volume 53 - Issue 4 - p 751-753
Original Articles

Background  This study examines whether mortality is greater in sport utility vehicles (SUVs) or passenger cars when these vehicles collide in a head-on crash.

Methods  This study analyzed the effect of vehicle weight in head-on crashes between passenger cars and SUVs between 1994 and 1999. Variables such as location of impact, safety belt use, vehicle weight, vehicle type, number of occupants, and number of fatalities were extracted from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

Results  Belted occupants of passenger cars involved in a fatal head-on collision with an SUV had a higher fatality rate (total deaths per vehicle type/total occupants per vehicle type) than belted occupants of the SUV (56.3% of passenger car occupants vs. 17.6% of SUV occupants). The difference in fatality rates is reduced when the weight of the passenger car is equivalent to the weight of the SUV but is still significant (45.6% of passenger car occupants vs. 26.5% of SUV occupants). In the 57 crashes where the passenger cars outweighed the SUVs by an average of 234 lb, the occupants of the cars still had a higher fatality rate than occupants of the SUVs (40.1% of passenger car occupants vs. 24.4% of SUV occupants).

Conclusion  Occupants of passenger cars have a higher risk of fatality than occupants of SUVs in car-versus-SUV head-on crashes. Vehicle differential weight plays an important role in determining the safety of occupants involved in these crashes, but safety cannot be evaluated on the basis of vehicle weight alone. Other factors such as mismatches in vehicle design and structural load path must also be considered.

From the Department of Emergency Medicine, State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York.

Submitted for publication July 20, 2001.

Accepted for publication April 30, 2002.

Supported, in part, by Federal Highway Administration grant DTFH61-98-X-00103 as awarded by the Center for Transportation Injury Research.

Address for reprints: James Mayrose, PhD, Department of Emergency Medicine, 462 Grider Street, Buffalo, NY 14215; email:

© 2002 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.