Highway Safety:

Causes of Injury in Automobile Crashes

PEMD-95-4: Published: May 9, 1995. Publicly Released: May 9, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed highway safety, focusing on: (1) the most important predictors of injury in an automobile crash; (2) how the risk of injury in a crash is affected by the severity and type of crash, automobile size, safety belts and airbags, and the occupants' age and gender; and (3) areas for further reducing automobile occupants' crash injury risks.

GAO found that: (1) the most important determinants of driver injury in car crashes are speed at impact, the type of crash, safety belt use, driver age and gender, and automobile weight and size; (2) injury is more likely in high-speed crashes, one car crashes, frontal crashes, and rollovers; (3) occupants of heavier and larger cars are less likely to be injured, but those cars pose a greater danger to persons in multivehicle crashes; (4) heavier cars offer more protection in one-car nonrollover and multivehicle crashes, but occupants of these cars are subject to more injury in rollovers than are occupants of lighter cars; (5) although safety belts reduce injury risks overall, they are most effective in rollovers, single car crashes, and frontal crashes; (6) air bags are only effective in frontal crashes and are less effective than safety belts alone; (7) although they are involved in fewer crashes overall, female and older drivers are more often injured than male and younger drivers are in similar crashes; (8) safety belts are not as effective for women as they are for men; (9) female and older drivers are involved in more multivehicle crashes and male and younger drivers are involved in more single car crashes; (10) older drivers tend to be involved in more side impact crashes; and (11) the government and manufacturers are working to improve automobile safety for each category of driver.

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