UW News

March 26, 2003

Children in SUVs at greater risk of injury in rollover crashes

Crashes involving children riding in sport utility vehicles (SUVs) are more likely to be rollover crashes than those involving passenger cars, and these rollover crashes are associated with a greater risk of death and injury. The overall risk of death for children in a crash, however, is not higher for children in SUV crashes compared with children in crashes involving passenger cars.

The question of children’s vulnerability in SUV rollover crashes is the subject of new research at the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center (HIPRC). “Injuries and Death in Rollover Vehicle Motor Vehicle Crashes in the United States” was published March 2003 issue of Injury Prevention.

In 1999, 10,142 people were killed as drivers and passengers in automobile and light truck rollover crashes, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data. The proportion of fatal crashes involving rollover varied widely according to vehicle type, ranging from 46 percent for passenger cars to 78 percent for SUVs.

No studies on rollovers involving children had been done prior to the HIPRC study, and no studies had examined the factors that affect the risk of injury and death for children in these crashes. The researchers worked with NHTSA data for children younger than 16-years-old who were passengers in motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. between 1993 and 1998.

The researchers found that one of every 10 children in crashes during this period was in a rollover crash. Among children involved in rollover crashes, the risk of death increases by 80 percent and the risk of injury more than doubles, compared with children in other types of crashes.

For children who were in crashes, the likelihood of vehicle rollover was 11 times greater for those riding in SUVs compared with children who rode in passenger cars, and in rollover crashes, the risk of death and injury is greater. Sixty percent of children involved in rollovers were riding in SUVs, compared with 4.4 percent of those in non-rollover crashes. However, the overall risk of death for children in crashes wasn’t higher for children who crashed in SUVs compared to children who crashed in passenger vehicles.

“The tendency of SUVs to be involved in rollover crashes has been the subject of recent attention,” says Dr. Frederick Rivara, a University of Washing ton(UW) professor of pediatrics and adjunct professor of epidemiology, who was principal investigator for the study. “While the risk of death from being involved in a rollover is greater in an SUV, this may be outweighed by the lower risk of death due to riding in a heavier vehicle in other kinds of crashes. More research is needed on the question of whether SUVs are generally safer or less safe than other vehicles on the road.”

In addition to Rivara, the study was conducted by Dr. Peter Cummings, a UW professor of epidemiology, and Dr. Charles Mock, a UW assistant professor of surgery.
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