What Really Makes Car Accidents So Deadly
When German inventor Karl Benz patented his invention of the first ever automobile back in 1886, he most likely never even entertained the idea of car-to-car collisions. Now, over one-hundred years later, according to the CDC, car accidents are the leading cause of death for children and young people 5 to 29 years of age. This is a very “hard to swallow” statistic as people rely on vehicles practically everyday and will continue to even after now knowing that everytime you step into one, you are putting yourself in danger of one of the leading causes of death for young people. One piece of knowledge that may help to put your mind at ease when entering a vehicle now is to learn of what really causes car accidents to be so deadly in the first place.
Just like almost all things that are fatal, there are numerous different factors that make it so, though there is usually one main underlying factor. In the case of what makes car accidents deadly, that main underlying factor is the disparity in the sizes of vehicles. Anyone with the understanding of high school level physics would be able to make the connection between different sized vehicles and the fatality of car accidents. To put it in the simplest way possible, heavy objects moving at the same speed as lighter objects have more energy. In terms of vehicles, this means that a large vehicle that is heavy, moving at the same speed as a smaller vehicle that is lighter, will exert more crushing force on the smaller vehicle in the occurrence of a car-to-car collision.
Going down the chain, we can look at what causes such a disparity in the sizes of vehicles on the roadways in the first place. This may seem like a pretty obvious one but it is mostly caused by an increase in the popularity of larger cars, specifically in the United States. 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 unquestionable growth in the popularity of larger vehicles, in the case of the United States, is due to a multitude of reasons. One of the reasons can be traced all the way back to the fact that America is not as old as many other countries. According to George Kennedy, “In Europe and other areas there are very old infrastructure and small streets in five to seven-hundred-year-old cities… [making it] difficult for larger vehicles to get around.” On the other hand, America was founded right around the time of the industrial revolution causing there to be need for larger and more extensive roadways. Because the roadways in America are much larger and expansive than other countries, they lend themselves to larger vehicles. The next reason for larger vehicles being popular has to do with the fact that gas prices are relatively cheap in the US compared to most other countries. This means Americans can afford to own gas guzzling SUVs and trucks without spending all of their money on gasoline. Another reason that large vehicles are popular is that they are safer, but as previously explained, they are only safer for the driver of the vehicle and more dangerous to the driver of smaller vehicles.
So looking back at this causal chain again, growth in popularity of large vehicles caused a greater disparity in vehicle sizes on roadways which, inturn, caused greater fatality rates of car-to-car collisions. There is one very important link missing from this chain that is essentially the main supporting point for my thesis. The missing link lies between the disparity in vehicle sizes and the fatality rates of accidents, and it is the crash compatibility of vehicles on roadways. That means the complete version of this chain sounds something like: growth in popularity of large vehicles caused a greater disparity in vehicle sizes on roadways causing poor crash compatibility which, inturn, causes greater fatality rates of car-to-car collisions. Defined by 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.” Vehicle crash compatibility in itself has a couple factors that go into it but, as one can guess from the causal chain, the main factor as defined by the NHTSA, is vehicle mass. In other words, vehicle size is the main cause of crash compatibility, meaning the closer a vehicle is in size to the other vehicle in an accident, the better compatibility they will have. This then implies pretty much my whole thesis, that different sized vehicles have poor crash compatibility which causes car-to-car collisions to be more fatal. This is not just some random claim with nothing to back it up either, there have been tests upon tests and studies upon studies that have proven this to be true. One example of a statistic that proves this point the best comes from a crash accident report from FARS, the Fatality Analysis Reporting System. According to their report, in the occurrence of a van to side car collision, the driver’s death ratio is about 1 to 23. Your immediate thought might be something along the lines of, “oh well that’s to be expected of a frontal to side collision between vehicles”. That thinking is completely wrong as the van to side car death ratio of 1 to 23 is nearly 4 times the car to side car death ratio of only 1 to 6. The statistic is alarming enough to make me even nervous now when seeing a large van or truck driving near me on the road. And to think, all of this unnecessary unease as well as unnecessary fatalities on the roadways can be traced back to something seeming as harmless as bigger vehicles gaining popularity.
Road Traffic Injuries & Deaths: A Global Problem. (2019, December 18). Retrieved October 26, 2020.
Salomon, S. (2015, June 25). Why Americans buy bigger cars than the rest of the world. Retrieved October 26, 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 26, 2020.