Remembering context when hearing about driver deaths

In March of 2015, many publications – including USA Today – posted articles regarding a study done by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety on which old cars, trucks, and SUVs had the most driver deaths from 2006-2009. These stats could be handy for people shopping for older used cars.

Two takeaways were of interest. The first:

SUVs have far lower driver deaths on average than cars and trucks.

The reasons? “With the propensity to roll over reduced [thanks to Electronic Stability Control being more widespread], SUVs are on balance safer than cars because their bigger size and weight provide greater protection in a crash.”

You may remember SUVs in the news for an increased risk of rolling over due to being more top-heavy than recommended in some models. This led to articles such as a 2007 Forbes writeup noting:

“While generally heavier SUVs and pickups are at an advantage in multi-vehicle accidents, they’ve been shown to be at quite a disadvantage in single-vehicle accidents (such as when the driver falls asleep, or loses control swerving around a deer), which comprise 43% of fatal accidents.

In this type of accident, SUVs and pickups have more than double the chance of rolling over, according to NHTSA data.”

The second takeaway may be a bit easier to digest, because it’s the list of cars that featured the most driver deaths. If you’re looking for a top 10 list that’s a bit more visually-friendly, has it.

Nissan and Chevrolet makes are 80% of the top 10. At first glance, that would make you want to avoid those cars and trucks. But what the report doesn’t address is also important to remember: Where did these deaths typically occur? What caused them?

And most important, if you’re considering one of these cars: Are you likely to be in the same type of collision?

Without the surrounding context, the list of top 10 cars that had the most driver deaths still has merit, but it’s reduced because we don’t understand what that fully means. As the Forbes article noted in the intro, in 2007 Nissan 350Z had a death rate nearly double that of an average sports car – but it wasn’t the car’s fault. It was because younger, less experienced drivers were taking it on the road.

Make sure to do your research, but remember that a statistic by itself needs proper context and explanation to be useful!

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