The New York Times reported yesterday that according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, auto manufacturers have made significant progress in improving the safety of drivers and their passengers in frontal and side-impact collisions but still lag behind in making cars safe in rear-end accidents.
In rear-end tests that were conducted, two of the best selling cars, the Toyota Camry and the Dodge Caliber, were rated marginal, the second-lowest of four possible scores. All six models tested earned at least an acceptable rating in frontal tests, but only the Kia Optima, a mid-size sedan, was given a passing grade in rear-end crashes.
Rear-end impacts are the most common type of accident, making up millions of insurance claims every year (most for property damage). Rear-end accidents are the stepchild of safety efforts from car makers. To some extent, this is understandable as frontal and side crashes are far more likely to result in serious injuries or fatalities. This is also reflected in settlement and verdicts. The average rear-end accident case resolves for only $8,715 over the last six years, according to Jury Verdict Research, compared to $30,000 for head-on collisions. Still, you would like to see the auto manufacturers make improvements in protecting occupants in rear-end collisions as well because they do, while less frequently, cause serious and fatal injuries.
A fear I have is that automakers are going to start making smaller cars as demand for fuel efficient cars increases. While I am all in favor of reducing our dependence on foreign oil, the death toll on our nation’s highways is going to increase dramatically when we are all driving Yugos.