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U.S. Report Questions Safety of SUVs

October 14, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Mid-size sport utility vehicles are nine times as likely as passenger cars to be involved in fatal rollover crashes and twice as likely to kill the occupants of other vehicles in crashes, a government study says.

The study, released Tuesday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, examined fatality data from 1995 to 2000 to determine the effects of vehicle weight.

It found large passenger cars, such as the Lincoln Town Car, and minivans had the lowest fatality rates of all vehicle types. Only vehicles manufactured between 1991 and 1999 were considered.

The study found that the fatality rate for SUVs and passenger cars of similar weight was essentially the same in non-rollover crashes. But death rates rose significantly for SUV occupants in rollover crashes.

In general, NHTSA found vehicles that weighed less were less safe. Among small passenger cars such as the Toyota Corolla, there was a 4.4 percent increase _ or an estimated 597 deaths per year _ in the risk of a fatality for every 100-pound reduction in the vehicle’s weight.

There was a 3 percent increase in fatality risk, or 234 deaths per year, for every 100-pound reduction in mid-size SUVs and light trucks such as the Ford Explorer.

Among the heaviest vehicles, such as the Dodge Durango, there was little difference when weight was reduced by 100 pounds. Occupants were killed more often in single-vehicle crashes because of increased rollovers or less protection, but those were offset by the smaller numbers of people killed when they were struck by the heavier vehicles.

The study could spark debate about vehicle safety as well as the effects of mandating increased fuel efficiency standards. Some opponents say mandated standards force automakers to decrease vehicle weight, making them less safe. But proponents say it’s possible to increase efficiency without sacrificing safety.

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On the Net:

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov

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