Low Speed Crashes Cost Insurers Big Bucks

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
low speed crashes cost insurers big bucks

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has revealed the premium-inflating costs of low-speed accidents to 10 luxury cars (plus a Saab 9-3). The IIHS subjected the fleet to crashes from four angles. The IIHS' boffins ran the front and rear tests at six mph, and impacted corners at three mph. And the "winners" are: Mercedes C-Class ($5486 front), Infiniti G35 ($3544 front corner), Infiniti G35 ($4035 rear) and Audi A4 ($1899 rear corner). To reduce insurance payouts costs, the IIHS advised luxury carmakers to lengthen bumper bars to protect critical and costly equipment ($1,046 for one Lexus ES headlight, not counting installation), make the bumpers taller to protect against SUVs, pickups and minivans; and mount bumper bars farther out. Are we looking at a return of the railroad tie bumper bars of the 70's? In their dreams.

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  • Edgett Edgett on Aug 03, 2007

    As to the SCCA/regular driver study, it is only one study. I agree that long distance truckers are a reasonable comparison, as they must demonstrate an ability to drive large, heavily loaded vehicles before they are permitted a license to do the same. The analogy of professional pilots vs non-professionals is also worthwhile; professionals, who have better training, are safer and more effective pilots. I doubt that ex-F16 jocks are as a group more dangerous than the average civil aviation pilot, despite their similarity to professional racing drivers. Confused: As to bumper heights, I was incorrect to suggest that all trucks and SUV's be required to sit at normal car heights; adjustable suspensions would allow those who need the clearance for off-road or work to gain the advantage when necessary yet lower the truck for those times when it was simply operating as a passenger conveyance on the highway or in the city. This would have the added advantage of improving fuel mileage for most people when driving a truck or SUV on the road. And while many trucks and SUV's do actually work for a living, the numbers suggest that the majority are used as mini-vans and never see any time off-road or on a construction site. The design of vehicles to meet crash standards suggests that we would all be better off with (mostly) matching bumper heights. And back to the original article about a new IIHS "safety bleat", it is worth remembering that the real push for stricter DUI laws came from a heartbroken mother and not from the IIHS. As I recall, the IIHS also joined Ralph Nader in predicting a huge increase in carnage when 55 ceased to be the national speed limit.

  • Pch101 Pch101 on Aug 03, 2007
    210Delray: Interesting study, but not terribly surprising–these are people paid (lucky SOBS) to drive like maniacs. No, they're paid to drive quickly and win races. It's no surprise that race car drivers would not fare so well in regular traffic, as the skills needed on the track are different from what is needed on the street. Driving on the track requires car control at 10/10ths. It requires going like stink around a corner without losing control of the car. Much of it is a matter of physics and engineering. Driving on the street is a cooperative dance with strangers. It requires the ability to anticipate what others will do, and how others will respond to your actions. The technical skills needed are minimal, it's pretty easy to point a car down a road and accelerate. Overall, it's not much tougher than is riding a bicycle, and it's really a study in sociology. In other words, 210delray is probably right -- it's mostly a function of attitude, and driver training won't help. All you need to do is to look abroad, and you see that among developed nations, there is no correlation between driver training and fatality rates. The US is generally mid-pack to better-than-average, outperforming many nations where driver training is far more rigorous. Then, look at the causes of accidents. The lead cause is typically driving under the influence -- no amount of driver training is going to overcome a high BAC. Next causes are related to factors such as speed, tailgating and cutting off other drivers, again which are all related to inappropriate choices made by one driver in the exchange. I don't see how driver's ed is supposed to do much good when there is no tangible evidence that it ever has, and when a lack of education doesn't explain the causes of accidents. When drivers get drunk, tailgate or overdrive their brakes (speed), there's usually a self-centered, uncooperative mindset behind it in which the driver elevates himself above all of those around him. You can't fix a bad attitude with technical training; all you can do is make it so difficult for the chronically self-fixated to drive legally that they find it easier just to ride a bus.
  • 210delray 210delray on Aug 03, 2007
    pch101: You said it better than I did; great analysis. Driver's ed teaches people how to drive; it doesn't imprint on them the attitude necessary to stay out of crashes. Also, another thought crossed my mind: even if you were able to take away the licenses of the worst drivers, I'd bet a fair percentage would continue driving anyway, without a license (and of course, without insurance). There are so many places in the US where it's simply not possible to take the bus. No transportation means no job and no real life. Edgett "it is worth remembering that the real push for stricter DUI laws came from a heartbroken mother and not from the IIHS. As I recall, the IIHS also joined Ralph Nader in predicting a huge increase in carnage when 55 ceased to be the national speed limit." No and no. The heartbroken mother may have provided the inspiration, but the IIHS provided much of the research to back her up. Look for example at the bibliography in the link I provided earlier. It was Joan Claybrook of Public Citizen and Clarence Ditlow of the Center for Auto Safety who were predicting a bloodbath with the lifting of the 65/55 mph limits in 1995. The IIHS took a "wait and see" attitude on the assumption that not all states would raise all highway speed limits. Similarly, the IIHS sat on the sidelines of the Audi "sudden acceleration" brouhaha of the 1980s, because the fevered allegations against Audi (and other automakers) didn't seem to add up.
  • Edgett Edgett on Aug 03, 2007

    210delray - You appear to have an answer for virtually anything related to auto safety and the IIHS, suggesting that perhaps you work for the IIHS or the insurance industry. As one who considers the braking and handling of a vehicle to be a primary safety factor (it can thus avoid being a statistic if it never has the accident) I took the time to look through IIHS press releases back to 1996. There was one article related to expected improvements from "stability control" systems, suggesting that in the event the driver has difficulty maintaining stability, perhaps an automatic (but more skilled) device could improve accident statistics. It's worth a look for those who feel that driving skill is unrelated to accident performance, since it suggests that automatic systems can help to avoid the accident in the first place: http://www.iihs.org/news/rss/pr061306.html Despite the importance of braking systems in accident avoidance, I found only a single press release, from 1996, which discussed brakes. It cited statistics which said that ABS-equipped cars were actually in more accidents than non-ABS equipped cars. One might draw the conclusion that non-ABS-equipped cars were actually then safer. Yet this is not borne out by the 2005 study which rates cars by risk of death to the driver. And I found no further reference to the incredible statistic that drivers of Chevrolet Blazers were 17 times more likely to die than those in a Lexus RX-300. As I recall, the Lexus is equipped with ABS. This is not to suggest that there are not other factors, such as demographics, which enter into the real safety arena. But it does point out that data alone does not tell the whole story. If the IIHS is truly interested in vehicle safety, surely more study about the extraordinary differentials in death rates between vehicles is warranted. Why is the death rate 10 times higher in a Ford Explorer than a Toyota 4-Runner? Why is there a variance of 5 times in ordinary mid-size passenger cars? Is it possible that the driver has some factor in it? Do more drunks drive Explorers than 4-Runners? Another factor notably absent from IIHS press releases has to do with specific road design issues or conditions of the roads, yet studies and accident reconstruction frequently cite flaws in road design or surface issues as contributory factors in many automobile accidents. I'm not anti-IIHS, but simply wonder if research on the cost of bumper repair is a more pressing issue than basic research on how to avoid deaths and injuries, which are far more important as a public health matter. Surely the industry members of the IIHS spend far more money on injured people than on injured vehicles. Finally, it is worth noting that the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, another industry group, has sponsored a three-year study to understand if better training leads to fewer motorcycle accidents. It might be enlightening to find that education actually decreases the likelihood of accidents.