SPECIAL REPORT 248

Shopping for Safety

Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information

Committee for Study of Consumer Automotive Safety Information

TRANSPORTATION RESEARCH BOARD

National Research Council

National Academy Press
Washington, D.C.
1996



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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information SPECIAL REPORT 248 Shopping for Safety Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information Committee for Study of Consumer Automotive Safety Information TRANSPORTATION RESEARCH BOARD National Research Council National Academy Press Washington, D.C. 1996

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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information TRANSPORTATION RESEARCH BOARD SPECIAL REPORT 248 Subscriber Category IVB safety and human performance Transportation Research Board publications are available by ordering directly from TRB. They may also be obtained on a regular basis through organizational or individual affiliation with TRB; affiliates or library subscribers are eligible for substantial discounts. For further information, write to the Transportation Research Board, National Research Council, 2101 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20418. Copyright 1996 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competencies and with regard for appropriate balance. This report has been reviewed by a group other than the authors according to the procedures approved by a Report Review Committee consisting of members of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The study was sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA National Research Council (U.S.). Committee for Study of Consumer Automotive Safety Information. Shopping for safety : providing consumer automotive safety information / Committee for Study of Consumer Automotive Safety Information, Transportation Research Board, National Research Council. p. cm. — (Special report / Transportation Research Board, National Research Council ; 248) ISBN 0-309-06209-8 1. Automobiles—Crashworthiness. 2. Automobiles—Defects—Reporting. 3. Consumer education. I. Title. II. Series: Special report (National Research Council (U.S.). Transportation Research Board) ; 248. TL242.N38 1996 381′.45629222—dc20 96-11131 CIP Cover design: Karen L. White

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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information COMMITTEE FOR STUDY OF CONSUMER AUTOMOTIVE SAFETY INFORMATION M. GRANGER MORGAN, Chairman, Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania ANN BOSTROM, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta THOMAS D. GILLESPIE, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor LINDSAY I. GRIFFIN III, Texas Transportation Institute, College Station ALBERT I. KING, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan WESLEY A. MAGAT, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina ROGER E. MAUGH, Ford Motor Company (retired), Ann Arbor, Michigan R. DAVID PITTLE, Consumers Union of United States, Inc., Yonkers, New York ALLAN F. WILLIAMS, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Arlington, Virginia Liaison Representatives TOM CARR, American Automobile Manufacturers Association, Washington, D.C. GREG DANA, Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, Arlington, Virginia DOUGLAS GREENHAUS, National Automobile Dealers Association, McLean, Virginia HENRY JASNY, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Washington, D.C. STEPHEN R. KRATZKE, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Washington, D.C. RICHARD PAIN, Transportation Research Board, Washington, D.C. Transportation Research Board Staff NANCY P. HUMPHREY, Study Director

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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information This page in the original is blank.

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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information PREFACE Mindful of growing consumer interest in motor vehicle safety features and the federal role in providing consumer automotive safety information, Congress requested an independent study of consumer information needs by the National Academy of Sciences. The Conference Committee Report authorizing the study recognized that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) already provides information to consumers on the crashworthiness of vehicles in frontal collisions. However, the information is limited in scope and does not provide a comprehensive assessment of a vehicle's likely overall safety performance. Hence the request for a study, sponsored by NHTSA, that would broadly examine motor vehicle consumer safety information needs and the most cost-effective methods of communicating this information to the public. Growth of the consumer movement in the 1960s and 1970s led to the introduction of information regulations in the belief that incomplete or inaccurate information about product attributes and risks can distort consumer choices and lessen the incentives for firms to produce safer products. Information labels and hazard warnings proliferated on consumer products ranging from household chemical cleaners to food products to major appliances. In theory, more complete information should foster more informed purchase decisions, at the same time allowing for individual differences in preferences and risk aversion. In practice, the results have been mixed. Information is effective to the extent that consumers perceive it as important and are able to process and use the message conveyed. Thus this study examines what vehicle safety information should be developed for consumers. It also addresses how the information should be structured and communicated and how a process can be put in place that promotes continuing improvements in consumer information and safer vehicle designs. To conduct the study, the Transportation Research Board (TRB) formed a panel of nine members under the leadership of M. Granger Morgan, Head of the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at

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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information Carnegie-Mellon University. The committee includes experts in motor vehicle and highway safety, highway safety data, consumer education and information, risk communication, information regulation and public policy, product evaluation, and product development and manufacturing. Panel members, who are drawn from universities, highway safety organizations, the insurance industry, and consumer groups, reached consensus on all the report findings and recommendations. The committee wishes to acknowledge the work of many individuals and organizations who contributed to the report, in particular those who participated in a 1-day workshop held early in the committee 's deliberations.1 The workshop, which responded to congressional concerns that the committee obtain the views of a wide array of experts, from industry to consumer and safety advocates, addressed motor vehicle safety information needs and public perceptions of safety in automobile purchase decisions. Special thanks are expressed to Eva Kasten, Executive Vice President of the Advertising Council, Inc., who provided the committee with information about public advertising strategies and moderated one of the workshop sessions. Nancy P. Humphrey managed the study and drafted major portions of the final report under the guidance of the committee and the supervision of Stephen R. Godwin, Director of Studies and Information Services. Suzanne Schneider, Assistant Executive Director of TRB, managed the report review process. In accordance with the National Research Council report review procedures, the report was reviewed by an independent group of reviewers. The final report was edited and prepared for publication under the supervision of Nancy A. Ackerman, Director of Reports and Editorial Services, TRB. Special appreciation is expressed to Norman Solomon, who edited the report; to Rona Briere, who helped reorganize sections of the report, and to Marguerite Schneider, who assisted in meetings, logistics, and communications with the committee and provided word processing support for numerous drafts. NOTE 1. The workshop agenda, including speakers, is included as Appendix A.

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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information CONTENTS     Executive Summary   1  1   Introduction and Overview   10      Legislative Context and Scope of Study   11      What Is Vehicle Safety?   13      Crash Causation and the Role of Vehicle-Related Factors   14      Federal Regulation of Vehicle Safety Features   15      Driver Attitudes to Crash Likelihood and Vehicle Safety   17      Institutional Issues   18      Implications for Study   18      Organization of Report   19  2   Current Understanding of Motor Vehicle Crash Avoidance and Crashworthiness   24      Vehicle Safety Data   24      Current State of Knowledge from Available Data   29      Summary of the State of Knowledge   47  3   Currently Available Consumer Automotive Safety Information   56      Sources of Consumer Vehicle Safety Information   56      Dissemination Outlets   61      Development of the NCAP Star-Rating System: A Case Study   64      Strengths and Weaknesses of Current Information   67      Why Better Information Is Not Provided   69      Making Better Use of Existing Information   71

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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information  4   Consumer Decision Making, Information Needs, and Communication Strategies   76      Framework for Understanding Major Product Purchase Decisions   76      Automobile Purchase Decisions and the Importance of Vehicle Safety Information   80      Structuring and Communicating Vehicle Safety Information   88      Research Needs   99  5   Developing and Communicating New Measures of Safety   110      Attributes of Good Summary Measures   110      Designing Effective Communications   113      Content of Communications   116      Getting the Message Out   124  6   Organizational Arrangements   127      Organizational Objectives   127      Institutional Concept and Functions   128      Organizational Options   129      Implementation Strategy and Next Steps   138      Benefits of Consumer Vehicle Safety Information   139  Appendix A   Workshop Agenda and Speakers, June 21, 1995   143  Appendix B   Congressional Requests for Consumer Automotive Safety Information Study, 1994   147  Appendix C   Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for Passenger Cars and Light Truck Vehicles   149  Appendix D   Interview Protocol and Questionnaire   154     Study Committee Biographical Information   157