NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Lighter Cars Means More Deaths

October 15, 2003

Reducing the weight of vehicles, mostly to improve fuel economy, has resulted in more traffic deaths, especially in small cars, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

According to an NHTSA study:

  • The most fuel efficient and often least expensive cars, the very small ones, have a fatality rate twice that of small and midsize Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) and four times that of minivans.
  • In collisions involving the heaviest pickups and SUVs, 83 percent of fatalities are in the lighter vehicles.
  • Weight reductions in pickup trucks and SUVs weighing less than 5,000 pounds and most passenger cars could mean more fatalities for occupants of those vehicles.
  • Fatalities would also increase in the heaviest trucks and SUVs, those weighing more than 5,000 pounds, by about 3 percent in rollovers and in collisions with fixed objects if their weight were reduced by 100 pounds.

On the other hand, those deaths would be offset by lives saved when the SUVs are in collisions with lighter-weight vehicles.

Source: David Kiley, "Study: Lighter cars mean more deaths," USA Today, October 15, 2003; "Vehicle Weight, Fatality Risk and Crash Compatibility of Model Year 1991-99 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks," DOT HS 809 662, NHTSA Technical Report, October 2003, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.


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