CFACT: Incomplete SUV Safety Data Gives Consumers Completely Wrong Impression

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7, 2003 -- Since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced this past spring that highway fatalities had increased from 2001 to 2002, and that the increase in vehicle occupant deaths was "mostly attributable to SUVs," the public has been led to wrong conclusions about SUV safety. SUVs and other light trucks were named as the main culprits for the increase in deaths, with rollovers being a major factor in the higher number of fatalities. But the data was incomplete, as the increase in number of deaths does not take into consideration the parallel increase in vehicle miles traveled or the number of vehicles on the road. In fact, there were an estimated three million more SUVs on the road in 2002 over 2001, and more of a particular type of vehicle on the road translates to a higher frequency of everything related to that vehicle -- from vehicle miles traveled to fatalities to the number of cup holders.

According to a release published yesterday by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, NHTSA data now show that the overall fatality rate per vehicle miles traveled in 2002 actually decreased compared to the 2001 rate -- an improvement that takes into account all vehicle types, including SUVs and other light trucks. Further, there was no increase whatsoever in the fatality rate for light trucks (a class which includes SUVs), as measured in deaths per registered vehicles, from 2001 to 2002. While no rate has been reported yet for the same period for light truck fatalities as measured per vehicle miles traveled, it is likely that this rate will have dropped based on NHTSA's data trend for the past 25 years.

"This would lead us to believe that driving an SUV or other light truck today is actually safer than in past years, contrary to what the media has been reporting," said David Rothbard, president of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT). "It's sad to think that consumers, looking to buy the safest vehicle for themselves and their families, might have decided not to purchase an SUV because of misleading headlines in the news."

With new safety technologies, such as electronic stability control and side air bags, and improvements in design and construction, such as the use of stronger roofing materials -- data from sources such as the Highway Loss Data Institute and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show that SUVs have among the lowest injury and fatality rates of all vehicles types. In fact, the vehicle type with the lowest fatality rate is the largest class of SUVs.

"It's time consumers had all the facts about the various vehicles available to them, so they can make fully informed decisions about their purchases," said Rothbard.

Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow is a non-profit public interest organization that works to promote free-market and safe technological solutions to consumer and environmental issues. For more information, please visit

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