Accident odds: Edmunds.com says it’s the driver, not the car
Your odds of causing a big dent in your set of wheels may be higher than you think.
Edmunds.com has taken an in-depth look at the risks of getting into a car accident, and the conclusion that the automotive information website draws is interesting: Basically, it’s not the car you drive that car that influences accidents, but how you drive that car.
“The vast majority of accidents – over 90 percent – are the result of driver error,” says Jeremy Anwyl, CEO of Edmunds.com. “Driver behavior is the greatest risk factor, not vehicle choice.”
Russ Rader, vice president of communications at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, strongly disagrees with Edmunds.com’s findings.
|“Crash test evaluations are in important measure of how well you and your family will be protected when a crash happens,” says Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.|
“The fallacy of Edmunds’ argument is that we can control the driving situation through our own skills and avoid crashing. We can’t,” Rader says. “No matter how skillful we think we are, we all make mistakes that can lead to crashes, and when we don’t, other drivers do.”
The nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration both conduct crash tests on new vehicles. To get the institute’s top rating, a car must be equipped with electronic stability control, which Rader says is “highly effective” in helping avoid crashes. The government’s ratings system highlights vehicles that come with electronic stability control and other crash-avoidance technology, Rader says.
“Crash test evaluations are in important measure of how well you and your family will be protected when a crash happens,” Rader says.
Why is this issue important to auto insurance consumers? It’s simple: Preventing a crash can save you money.
One insurer, Nationwide, says someone who’s been deemed a safe driver can see auto insurance premiums rise as much as 30 percent after an accident. Many auto insurers offer discounts for being accident-free. GEICO, for instance, says you can save up to 26 percent on most types of coverage if you’ve driven accident-free for five years.
Edmunds CEO: Crash tests are ‘misleading’
Anwyl says most studies of vehicle crashes are “unintentionally misleading.” He says: “Actually, our data shows that the difference between the top-line vehicles and their budget-conscious brethren is pretty narrow.”
He says the best way for drivers to avoid crashing their cars is to practice safer driving habits – not to buy bigger, supposedly safer new cars.
“Take a teenage daughter going to college,” Anwyl says. “The parents naturally want a safe car, but that’s not the way to go. An investment in an accelerated driving safety course will result in fewer accidents, based on our data.”
Rader says: “Every individual believes he or she is an above average driver — it’s all the idiots out there who need educating. In surveys, drivers always point to the other guy as the problem; the individual driver doesn’t believe he or she needs the education.”
New tool assesses drivers’ risks
How does Edmund’s accident risk analysis model work? Edmunds starts by blending data it already compiles at its vehicle safety website and matching it with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data on consumer vehicle complaints. Edmunds has been tracking this data since 1999.
|Jeremy Anwyl, CEO of Edmunds.com, asserts that when it comes to auto accidents, driver behavior is the greatest risk factor — not vehicle choice.|
Edmunds’ newest in-house measurement – the Driver Risk Assessment tool – takes the research model deeper, factoring in key demographics like age, geography, gender, marital status and driving history to gauge a car owner’s risk for getting into an accident. Then, putting the federal crash data into the mix, Edmunds creates a database that predicts the possibility of accidents, based on how you drive and what kind of vehicle you drive, including the severity of injury or the probability of death.
The Driver Risk Assessment tool was unveiled in May 2011.
“Safety is not easy to define, and many consumers look at crash test scores as a default measure of safety,” Anwyl says. “But while crash test results might provide bragging rights to the automakers, they do not necessarily help consumers estimate their likely experience.”
Here are three conclusions that Anwyl draws from Edmunds’ research on the potential for car crashes, along with responses from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Rader:
1. Don’t count on crash tests when assessing safety.
Anwyl says crash tests measure only what happens in an auto accident, not whether a crash will occur.
“Statistically, they’re not much use to consumers,” he says. “About 90 percent of accidents are due to driver error, another 65 percent due to external environmental factors and 2 percent to vehicle failure.”
Anwyl’s advice: Save your money by skipping a high-end car and putting that money toward a good driver safety program.
Rader’s says: “The first 50 years of motor vehicle safety efforts boiled down to ‘Please drive carefully.’ The idea was to educate people about the wisdom of safe driving practices, assuming that they would change their behavior based on the new information. It wasn’t successful. That doesn’t mean we should ignore driver behavior. We need to take it into account from the beginning when we implement safety programs or roadway design changes.”
2. Car safety ratings are relative.
Anwyl says safety ratings systems typically measure cars of similar size and model against one another. But that’s not how people drive in the real world.
“We actually found that most cars are quite safe,” Anwyl says. “What was surprising to us was that luck was just as an important factor as vehicle safety features.”
Rader says crash test results from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration help families make safe choices when it comes to buying cars.
“People driving vehicles rated highly in crash tests are less likely to be injured or killed in serious crashes,” Rader says. “Car buyers also have to keep in mind that the laws of physics haven’t been overturned: Drivers of bigger, heavier cars are better protected in crashes.”
3. Change your mind-set.
Anwyl recommends drivers change the way they think about driving safety — moving away from what kinds of cars they drive and toward how they drive them.
“If you care about safety, don’t focus on the car — focus on averting mistakes as you drive,” Anwyl says. “When you reduce the risk of being in an accident, you’re reducing the risk of having an accident in the first place. And that comes from understanding the risk of bad driving habits.”
Rader’s says simply trying to change drivers’ behavior is an approach that’s “too narrow” and “ultimately ineffective.”
“That’s why we now have a multifaceted strategy to road safety that includes measures aimed at drivers, vehicles and the roadway environment,” Rader says.