The fatality rate of car accidents has been a topic of discussion over the last century, ever since Henry Ford made the automobile widely available in the 1920s. Soon after automobiles were commonplace in America, people experienced traffic jams for the first time, as well as traffic accidents and, of course, fatalities. This caused demands to make vehicle safety regulations on the state level which were met with the introduction of speed limits, traffic lights, and stop signs. For over a century now, safety regulations such as the ones listed have been some of the main focuses of keeping drivers safe and preventing fatalities on roadways. These safety regulations have worked well and are without a doubt essential but there is one aspect of vehicle safety that does not get enough attention as it should, that is crash compatibility.
When looking into the relationship between vehicle size/weight and the fatality rate of car accidents, it is essential to understand the deeper meaning behind the phrase “crash compatibility,” not only on a scientific level but on a social level as well. According to the authors of the article, VEHICLE COMPATIBILITY IN CAR -TO-CAR FRONTAL OFFSET CRASH, “Vehicle [crash] compatibility is defined as the ability of a car to protect both its own occupants and partner car’s occupants.” So if two vehicles in a car-to-car crash accident have the same death ratio as well as lower numbers of fatalities, then the compatibility of these two vehicles is said to be good. Data collected from FARS (Fatality Analysis Reporting System), shows the ratio of fatalities to different sizes of vehicles in car-to-car collisions. When in an accident between regular cars and trucks, minivans, SUVs, and full-sized vans, cars have always at least double the deaths up to even a 6 to 1 ratio when in collisions with full-sized vans. These deaths are easily preventable if more attention was brought to the current crash incompatibilities between current vehicles on the road.
In the article titled, Crash compatibility between cars and light trucks: Benefits of lowering front-end energy-absorbing structure in SUVs and pickups, the author Bryan Baker claims, “In response to growing concerns about incompatibilities in collisions between cars and light trucks (i.e., pickups and SUVs), representatives from automobile manufacturers, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and other international vehicle safety organizations agreed in 2003 to develop collaborative recommendations to improve vehicle crash compatibility.” This sounds like it’s a step in the right direction like it’s some progress towards addressing the issue of crash compatibility, but it’s not. The collaboration of vehicle specialists formed groups to identify vehicle design features that cause the crash incompatibilities between small and large vehicles. One of the tests conducted by IIHS, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Transport Research Laboratory in the United Kingdom demonstrated that the energy absorbing structures of vehicles seemed to be the leading design feature that needed changing to make cars more crash compatible. Through tests of head-on collisions between vehicles with mismatched energy-absorbing structures it was shown that this resulted in more override and underride. This means that the larger vehicle with a higher energy-absorbing structure would go right over the structure of a smaller car causing the passenger compartment to be crushed, resulting in fatalities. This is where I believe they went wrong. It was pretty much unanimously decided that the only issue with crash compatibility was the mismatch between energy-absorbing structures. This assumption was made after only testing frontal collisions between small and large vehicles meaning accidents from the side of the vehicle are still just as deadly even after structure changes. This is once again due to simply the difference in size and weight of different types of vehicles.
True full crash compatibility between all cars on the road can never be achieved unless all vehicles are produced to be the same size and weight. Cars can still maintain their unique designs and features that will make some more appealing than others, but as long as all cars are simply manufactured to the same size/weight specification, the fatality rate of car-to-car collisions will drastically decrease. Well, who wouldn’t want to be significantly less likely to die while driving? So getting the size of vehicles to be mandated should be an easy thing to do right? Well that’s not necessarily true. Big cars are starting to become the new big thing with more people buying and owning SUVs/trucks than ever before. According to Steven Overly at the Washington Post, in an article about the recent rise of SUVs in the US, “…sales of crossovers and SUVs took off at a quicker pace than for cars. Then in the last two years, Americans continued to buy more of every category of light trucks while car purchases declined.” This undeniable growth in the popularity of bigger cars would make putting a vehicle size/weight limit into place nearly impossible. Another, and quite possibly, even larger problem that has developed from the popularity of larger vehicles is how they tend to carry a heftier price than others which means more money for automakers which inturn makes them the new big focus of most car brands. These big automobile companies such as Ford and GM are starting to even go as far as planning to shift their car production abroad to focus more on their line of SUVs and trucks here in the US. But that’s a whole other problem for a different research paper.
Implementing car size/weight mandation will not be an easy task but a necessary one if true crash compatibility is to be achieved on roadways. As I have been preaching throughout this whole writing, forcing all vehicles to be the same size/weight would reduce fatalities from car-to-car collisions drastically, more than any new road sign, that people will most likely not even abide by 100% of the time, would. That is why understanding the phrase “crash compatibility” is essential towards making my hypothesis possible.
Baker, B., Nolan, J., O’Neill, B., & Genetos, A. (2007, May 22). Crash compatibility between cars and light trucks: Benefits of lowering front-end energy-absorbing structure in SUVs and pickups. Retrieved September 28, 2020.
The Age of the Automobile. (n.d.). Retrieved October 12, 2020.
Bae, H., Lim, J., & Park, K. (n.d.). VEHICLE COMPATIBILITY IN CAR -TO-CAR FRONTAL OFFSET CRASH [PDF]. Korea: Hyundai Motor Company.
Overly, S. (2019, April 17). Americans have fallen in love with little big cars. Retrieved October 12, 2020.