ABOUT VEHICLE SAFETY

The aim of the information provided here is to assist users in making decisions about buying and using passenger motor vehicles so as to reduce the exposure of occupants to hazards and injuries. On the left are links for acquiring additional important information about vehicle safety.

As a matter of design, vehicles in the highway environment are capable of traveling - and therefore crashing - at dangerously high speeds, including speeds in excess of legal limits. In addition, they vary widely in terms of the levels of protection from injury they provide to occupants in crashes. In use, motor vehicles are being driven under a wide range of circumstances - driver age and condition, time of day, weather, road design and many other factors - which bear on their risk of crash involvement.

FEDERAL STANDARDS: No vehicle is entirely safe, but vehicle design and use can influence the degree to which a vehicle exposes its users to crashes and injury-causing hazards. All vehicles must meet the performance standards issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. CLICK HERE to see the standards listed and summarized. It is important to understand that these standards are minimums. Individual manufacturers may exceed the standards if they choose, but the extent to which they do so varies.

ADVANCED FEATURES: In addition, some worthwhile features to enhance crash avoidance and reduce injuries in crashes may not be required by the standards and thus may not be available, or are only available at the discretion of the manufacturer, either as optional or standard equipment, for an additional cost. At present, that is the case with Side Impact Airbags (SABs), which reduce injuries in lateral impacts. For details CLICK HERE. It is also the case with Electronic Stability Control (ESC) systems to reduce the chance of vehicle rollover. For details CLICK HERE.

ROLLOVER HAZARDS: Vehicle rollovers end in thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of severe, often permanently disabling injuries each year. "Light Trucks and Vans" - a vehicle class that actually includes SUVs, pickup trucks and minivans - are hugely overrepresented in the carnage because so many of them are dangerously unstable as a matter of design. NHTSA documents dating from the 1980ís and earlier (see "Collections"), as well as an illuminating 1996 agency study, make it clear that Federal safety regulators have known this for years.

"Almost 60 percent of fatalities in rollover crashes occur when occupants are ejected through doors or windows. In other cases, the roof crushes, causing head or neck injuries, or occupants are thrown around inside the vehicle hitting hard surfaces," the study finds. Yet no regulations have been imposed on manufacturers to govern the rollover propensity of passenger vehicles sold to consumers. To read the 1996 study, CLICK HERE. To read a Consumers Reports summary of SUV-pickup truck safety concerns and advice to buyers, CLICK HERE.

CHILDREN IN CRASHES: Motor vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death to children from three years of age up. A number of organizations are working to reduce child crash deaths and injuries. Public Citizen discusses the issues and provides links to other concerned groups. CLICK HERE.

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