A newly released study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows that when a car is hit by a light truck or SUV, the car is the loser. But IIHS spokesmen told the Washington Post that the report is meant to bring perspective to the car/light truck crash debate. The study shows that passengers in cars are four times more likely to die than those in pickup or sports utility vehicles.

This is what is being called a fight between automotive Gullivers and Lilliputians between 1990 and 1995. Statistics showed that if a small cars weighting less than 2,500 pounds is stuck in the side by a SUV, occupants of the car are 47 times more likely to die. By comparison, when a car hits another auto in the side there are six deaths in the car being hit for every one in the striking vehicle.

They cite the example of a pickup trucks in the 3,500-4,000 pound class, such as the Ford F150 or GMC 1500, that hits another vehicle. More than twice as many die in the other vehicles than the trucks: 115 to 52. But when a car in the same weight range, such as a Ford Taurus or Chevy Lumina , crashes with another vehicle the death ratio is 57 in the other vehicle to 53 inside the large car. And, for crashes involving sport utility vehicles, the ratio is 92 deaths in the other vehicles to 37 in the sport utility.

Currently, 19 percent of the vehicles on the road are pickups, 8 percent are sport utility vehicles, 65 percent are cars and 5 percent are minivans.

About 10 percent of all car occupant deaths occur in crashes with pickups and about 4 percent occur in crashes with sport utility vehicles. Most of the people killed in cars are involved in collisions with other cars, big trucks or in single-vehicle crashes, so making light trucks safer is no panacea.

In 1996 there were 37,000 fatal crashes which killed 41,907 people.  5,259 died in light truck to car crashes. But 16,663 died in single vehicle accidents and another 10,479 died in crashes with vehicles other than light trucks.

Later this spring, NHTSA will hold an international summit of automakers and safety experts to discuss light truck-passenger car safety.

Crash testing on six vehicles will begin Feb. 20, 1998, at NHTSA's test center. The first three vehicles to be tested will be a 1998 Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck, a 1997 Ford Explorer, and a 1997 Dodge Caravan. A 1998 Honda Accord will take the hits in all six tests.

During crash testing, typical collisions between sport utility vehicles, minivans, pickup trucks and passenger cars will be staged to examine the mismatches in vehicle design that may increase the severity and consequences of crashes. There will be three frontal crashes and three side collisions. The latter tests simulate an intersection crash where the striking vehicle is traveling at 30 mph and the struck vehicle at 15 mph.

Light trucks now represent 34 percent of the total fleet on the nation's highways. As a class, they are considered more "aggressive" than passenger cars in crashes. Since 1992, there have been more fatalities in car-light truck collisions than in car-to-car crashes. In these crashes, research shows that 80 percent of the fatalities are occupants of the car.

NHTSA will convene a "summit" of safety experts and automakers to present  preliminary crash tests results and discuss the range of issues surrounding light truck-passenger car safety. The goal of the summit is to get all sides together to work toward solutions.

The safety agency also released a new study from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) which backs up the agency's concern. The UMTRI study shows that when an SUV strikes a passenger car in a frontal crash, there are five fatalities in the car for each fatality in the sport utility vehicle; and when an SUV strikes a passenger car on the side, there are 30 fatalities in the car for each fatality in the SUV.

A paper which NHTSA will present at the 1998 Society of Automotive Engineers annual congress, says that although light trucks account for one-third of registered vehicles, collisions between cars and light trucks account for over half of all fatalities in multi-vehicle, crashes. Also, nearly 60 percent of all fatalities in side impact crashes occur when the striking vehicle is a light truck.

Because light trucks often rollover in crashes, NHTSA is considering new rollover warning labels for SUVs. NHTSA is also considering a rollover test for light trucks. NHTSA researchers also are reviewing ways to reduce the incidence of driver and passenger ejection in crashes through changes such as stronger window glazing, new door locks, and roof crush bars.


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