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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Fatality Risks of Sport-Utility Vehicles, Vans, and Pickups


This paper presents a model of vehicle choice and then empirically examines the risk posed by light trucks (sport-utility vehicles, vans, and pickups) to those that drive them and to other drivers, relative to the risk posed by cars. The paper examines both the relative risk of dying given a crash as well as the relative crash frequencies of light trucks versus cars. The identification strategy uses information on pedestrian fatalities by vehicle type to correct for the sample selection bias that may exist due to the lack of reliable data on non-fatal crashes. Using data on all two-vehicle fatal crashes from 1991 through 1998, the results suggest that, given a crash, a light truck driver is 0.29 to 0.69 times as likely to die than is a car driver. On the other hand, given a crash, a light truck driver is 1.48 to 2.63 times as likely to kill the opposing driver than is a car driver. Using data from 1991 through 1994, the crash frequency estimates suggest that light trucks are approximately 2.2 times as likely to get into a crash than are cars. The relative safety of utility vehicles and pickups (compared to cars) disappears once one factors in the greater crash frequencies of light trucks. Factoring in the greater crash frequency of light trucks also increases their relative external risk. Light trucks are 3.26 to 5.78 times as likely to kill another driver than are cars. A world in which everyone drove light trucks would result in 2.81 to 6.31 times as many fatalities than a world in which everyone drove cars.

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