Highway Safety:

Have Automobile Weight Reductions Increased Highway Fatalities?

PEMD-92-1: Published: Oct 8, 1991. Publicly Released: Oct 28, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed whether automotive weight reductions have resulted in increased highway fatalities.

GAO found that: (1) the increase in the proportion of light cars on the road has had virtually no effect on total highway fatalities; (2) between fiscal year (FY) 1975 and FY 1988, the median weight of passenger cars on American roads decreased by approximately 28 percent; (3) between FY 1975 and FY 1988, overall automobile occupant fatality rates declined by more than 20 percent; (4) the very lightest cars, those weighing 1,800 pounds or less, had substantially higher occupant fatality rates than those above 1,800 pounds; (5) fatality rates for all weight categories were substantially higher in the 1970's than in the 1980's; (6) the largest cars had the lowest occupant fatality rates; (7) it is likely that some proportion of the fatalities in lighter car categories could be attributed to driver age rather than to automobile weight, since young drivers are involved disproportionately in fatal accidents and drivers under 25 years of age are much more likely to operate lighter cars; and (8) cars in the middle of the weight distribution scale had higher fatality rates than cars in some lower weight categories.

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