This report presents an analysis of the effect that the downsizing of automobiles since the mid-1970s has had on highway fatalities. In conducting this study, the General Accounting Office (GAO) reviewed the research literature on automobile weight and safety, particularly the technical reports issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). GAO also conducted their own analysis of data from the Fatal Accident Reporting System (FARS), a data set of fatal traffic accidents that is maintained by NHTSA. In brief, GAO found the following: The unprecedented increase in the proportion of light cars on the road since the 1970s has not increased the total highway fatality rate (that is, the number of automobile occupant deaths per 100,000 registered cars). GAO's findings support the view that the automobile weight reductions since the mid-1970s have had virtually no effect on total highway fatalities. Fatality rates for all cars have declined in recent years, but the rate for light cars has improved more than that for heavier cars. GAO found that an approach that focuses exclusively on crashworthiness neglects other important factors involved in the weight/safety relationship that may have had beneficial effects on highway safety during the 1970s and 1980s. One of these factors is the dramatic reduction in the number of heavy cars, and therefore in the danger that these cars pose to occupants of other vehicles with which they collide.

  • Supplemental Notes:
    • Report to Congressional Requesters.
  • Corporate Authors:

    U.S. General Accounting Office

    441 G Street, NW
    Washington, DC  United States  20548
  • Publication Date: 1991-10

Media Info

  • Features: Appendices; Figures; References; Tables;
  • Pagination: 38 p.

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 00616484
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Report/Paper Numbers: GAO/PEMD-92-1
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Oct 31 1991 12:00AM