It's Probably Safe to Drop That Top: IIHS

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
it s probably safe to drop that top iihs

Just apply sunscreen first.

While most Americans hold reservations about going topless, preferring staid modesty over outlandish exhibitionism, many still enjoy kicking up their heels and getting the most out of life. Luckily for them, several automakers are only too happy to play along. And if that sort of thing’s your bag, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has good news for you.

Your convertible is likely just as safe as the coupe version of the same vehicle.

While the days of massive Detroit land yachts with bodies as rigid as Gumby and windshield frames thinner than Kate Moss are long behind us, the stigma they lent to top-down driving still looms over some psyches. No one wanted to be involved in a T-bone or rollover accident in one of those machines. As such, driving one took on an element of danger.

Clearly, their drivers were full of life.

Nowadays we have reinforced A-pillars and sturdy door beams and stability control and, in some cases, pop-up roll bars. Rollover protection is greatly increased in all new models, regardless of roof type.

This seems to be borne out in fatality data collected by two National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reporting systems and combined by the IIHS. In studying the rate of crashes and subsequent fatalities in 1- to 5-year-old vehicles from 2014 to 2018, the institute found that “both crash rates and driver death rates were lower for convertibles than for nonconvertible versions of the same cars.”

The IIHS noted that the difference in death rates between the two weren’t great enough to be significant. Still, the data shows that the old misconception about driving a drop-top is exactly that.

From the IIHS:

[IIHS Director of Statistical Services Eric Teoh] found that convertibles were involved in 6 percent fewer police-reported crashes per miles traveled than their conventional counterparts. Driver death rates were 11 percent lower. However, the likelihood that the driver was ejected from the vehicle in the event of a fatal crash was higher for convertibles than conventional versions.

Previous research has shown that for conventional cars a stronger roof reduces the risk of a serious or fatal injury as well as the likelihood of ejection in the event of a rollover crash. IIHS added a roof-strength evaluation to its crashworthiness testing program in 2009, making a good rating a requirement for the TOP SAFETY PICK award a year later.

It’s worth noting that convertibles currently on the market are either pored-over, painstakingly optimized sports cars or high-end fare (or both). Gone are the days when you could hop into a Chevrolet Cavalier or Dodge Shadow drop-top. Whether the elimination of the mainstream, low-end convertible market skews these findings in favor of coupe-convertible safety parity is unknown.

While the NHTSA data shows you’re not more likely to die in a convertible, the manner in which you depart this earth could indeed differ. The types of crashes incurred by both body styles were near identical, but convertible drivers are more likely to die via ejection than coupe drivers (21 percent vs 17 percent). Not surprisingly, the frequency of occupant ejection increases during rollover crashes.

Does data suggest that free-spirit convertible drivers flout road rules? Not really.

“Convertible drivers were slightly more likely to be wearing seat belts and slightly less likely to be speeding, though they were a bit more likely to be impaired by alcohol,” the IIHS stated. “These differences were too small to suggest a big variation in driver behavior for the two vehicle types.”

[Image: Ford, Murilee Martin/TTAC]

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  • Funky D Funky D on Jun 24, 2020

    I've been a convertible fanatic for 30 years. Have had 4 of them, all of them with a Wolfsburg or VW crest somewhere on the car. Every other vehicle I own sans 1 has a sunroof. While that is no substitute for total open air experience, sometimes it has to do, and is still better than being "couped" up! I don't drink and habitually wear a seatbelt, so I don't think I am at a greater risk in a wreck than anyone else in a similar sized closed roof vehicle.

  • Boff Boff on Jun 25, 2020

    Yep it costs a mere pittance to insure my ‘18 MX-5. I resisted buying a convertible for years because I figured my very delicate and fussy wife would dislike it. Yet she insisted she was a convertible person, and when I finally took the plunge it turns out the wind, the noise, the sun and the risk of bird poop were non-issues for her. People can surprise you even after almost 25 years of marriage.

  • Tassos Before you rush to buy this heap of rusty metal, maybe you should wait a day or two.I hear Tim will have an Model T next time.
  • Redapple2 I d just buy one already sorted. Too many high level skills (wiring, paint, body panel fitment et. al.) that i dont have. And I dont fancy working 100 s of hours for $3 /hour.
  • 28-Cars-Later I'm actually surprised at this and not sure what to make of it. In recent memory Senator Biden has completely ignored an ecological disaster in Ohio, and then ignored a tragic fire in Hawaii until his handlers were goaded in sending him and his visit turned into it's own disaster, but we skipped nap time for this sh!t show? Seriously? We really are through the looking glass now, "votes" no longer matter (Hillary almost won being the worst presidential candidate since 1984 before he claimed the crown) and outside of Corvette nostalgia Joe doesn't care let alone know what day it happens to be. Could they really be afraid of Trump, who AFAIK has planned no appearance or run his mouth on this issue? Just doesn't make sense, granted this is Clown World so maybe its my fault for trying to find sense in a senseless act.
  • Tassos If you only changed your series to the CORRECT "Possibly Collectible, NOT Daily Driver, NOT Used car of the day", it would sound much more accurate AND TRUTHFUL.Now who would collect THIS heap of trash for whatever misguided reason, nostalgia for a much worse automotive era or whatever, is another question.
  • ToolGuy Price dropped $500 overnight. (Wait 10 more days and you might get it for free?)