A report compiled by economic professors at Rutgers University and published by the Cato Institute, says that growing light truck usage by both consumer and commercial users may actually be reducing the number of highway fatalities every year – the exact opposite of claims made by both government and insurance groups.
The study by Douglas Coate and James VanderHoff entitled "The Truth about Light Trucks" says that over the last two decades, as the numbers of light trucks have doubled on America’s roads, the number of traffic fatalities has actually dropped by 30%. That includes a decrease in fatalities per capita, per licensed driver, and per registered vehicles, say Coate and VanderHoff.
The authors add that the U.S. has also witnessed a 50% decline accident fatalities per vehicle mile traveled – a statistic that suggests “large, stiff-framed light trucks may be lowering traffic fatalities instead of increasing them.”
The report says that though stiffer drunk driver penalties, improved overall automotive technology, and the re-introduction of 55 mph speed limits have contributed to lower numbers of highway fatalities, the intrinsic safety benefits of light trucks have been overlooked.
The study suggests that the stiffer frames and greater weights of light trucks – both pickups and SUVs – are more protective of passengers in collisions that do not involve other vehicles. The professors also found that those design benefits offset fatalities associated with multiple-vehicle accidents, meaning more lives overall are saved, as opposed to accidents involving cars alone.
According to the report’s calculations, light trucks actually help lower single-vehicle fatalities by 7.5%, according to accident data gathered between 1994 and 1997, while lowering the fatality rate in multiple vehicle crashes by 2%. Those numbers translate into 2,000 lives saved over that three-year period because of the wider use of light trucks.