EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The purpose of this study is to examine consumer needs for automotive safety information and the most cost-effective and meaningful methods of communicating this information. Current programs and the need for a process to support continuing improvement of consumer vehicle safety information and thereby provide additional incentives for manufacturers to enhance vehicle safety are addressed. The focus is primarily on development of better safety information for new car purchasers, particularly safety-conscious consumers.

MOTOR VEHICLE CRASH AVOIDANCE AND CRASHWORTHINESS

Automobile crashes are complex events that result from the interaction of driver behavior, the driving environment (e.g., weather, time of day, type of road), and vehicle design. Experts agree that driver error or inappropriate driver behavior—drunk and reckless driving —is the dominant factor affecting the likelihood of being in a crash. Human characteristics, such as age and state of health, also affect the likelihood of surviving crash injuries.

The dominance of the human factor in crash causation does not diminish the important effect of vehicle design and safety features on crash likelihood or, in particular, on crash outcomes. Drivers cannot change their age or control the driving behavior of others, but they can decide which vehicle to buy and attempt to select the safest vehicle that will meet their needs and minimize crash likelihood and injury potential.

Vehicle features affect safety in two ways: (a) they help the driver avoid a crash or recover from a driving error (crash avoidance) and (b)



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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information EXECUTIVE SUMMARY The purpose of this study is to examine consumer needs for automotive safety information and the most cost-effective and meaningful methods of communicating this information. Current programs and the need for a process to support continuing improvement of consumer vehicle safety information and thereby provide additional incentives for manufacturers to enhance vehicle safety are addressed. The focus is primarily on development of better safety information for new car purchasers, particularly safety-conscious consumers. MOTOR VEHICLE CRASH AVOIDANCE AND CRASHWORTHINESS Automobile crashes are complex events that result from the interaction of driver behavior, the driving environment (e.g., weather, time of day, type of road), and vehicle design. Experts agree that driver error or inappropriate driver behavior—drunk and reckless driving —is the dominant factor affecting the likelihood of being in a crash. Human characteristics, such as age and state of health, also affect the likelihood of surviving crash injuries. The dominance of the human factor in crash causation does not diminish the important effect of vehicle design and safety features on crash likelihood or, in particular, on crash outcomes. Drivers cannot change their age or control the driving behavior of others, but they can decide which vehicle to buy and attempt to select the safest vehicle that will meet their needs and minimize crash likelihood and injury potential. Vehicle features affect safety in two ways: (a) they help the driver avoid a crash or recover from a driving error (crash avoidance) and (b)

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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information they provide protection from harm during a crash (crashworthiness). Characteristics such as vehicle stability and braking performance affect the probability of being in a crash, all else being equal. But the driver plays a more important role in determining the extent to which these crash avoidance features reduce crash likelihood. For example, the high fatality rates for drivers of sports cars— vehicles noted for their low center of gravity and stability as well as advanced handling and braking capabilities—attest to the importance of driver and use patterns, which largely determine crash involvement. Once in a crash, however, vehicle characteristics that contribute to crashworthiness, such as size and weight, how the vehicle absorbs energy, and restraint system attributes, play a large role in determining the likelihood and extent of occupant injury. Because of the close coupling of vehicle characteristics and vehicle crashworthiness, the motor vehicle safety research program of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has given top priority to research on measures for improving vehicle crashworthiness. Many standards have been developed and injury mitigation measures introduced, such as air bags, which have been incorporated into most new vehicles. These programs are the source of much of the comparative information about vehicle safety features and performance available to consumers. CURRENT CONSUMER AUTOMOTIVE SAFETY INFORMATION Considerable information is available to consumers about vehicle safety. NHTSA, the agency with statutory authority to provide consumer automotive safety information, makes available comparative data on the crashworthiness of vehicles in the same class from full-frontal crash tests conducted in its New Car Assessment Program; the insurance industry publishes information about injury claims and death rates by vehicle make and model and recently has provided comparative data on vehicle crashworthiness in offset frontal crash tests, representing a more common type of frontal crash; manufacturers advertise the safety features of their vehicles; and Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, runs tests of such vehicle safety characteristics as emergency handling and braking performance. Consumers Union and, more recently, NHTSA and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have attempted to compile comparative vehicle safety information in

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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information consumer-oriented publications. Thus, some information on vehicle safety is available to help consumers comparison shop. Current safety information, however, has several limitations: The information is incomplete and difficult for consumers to pull together in any summary assessment and comparison of the overall performance of different vehicles. Current crash test results can be compared only among vehicles in the same size and weight class. The results do not reflect the inherent advantage of heavier cars or the fact that larger cars are more likely to have additional crush space to protect the integrity of the occupant compartment in more severe crashes. The repeatability of crash test results is an issue. Only one test per vehicle is conducted because of the cost of testing. Thus the range of variance in test scores is not well established, and the uncertainties of the results are not acknowledged in the published scores. Finally, current crash tests, which are focused on frontal crashes, do not provide a comprehensive picture of vehicle crashworthiness given the real-world variation in crash configurations and speeds. (Crash test performance, while an important indicator of vehicle crashworthiness, is unlikely ever to be highly correlated with real-world crash outcomes, which reflect driver characteristics and where, when, and how much the vehicle is driven.) Actual crash data on fatalities and injury claims by vehicle make and model reflect real crash experience. However, it is difficult to separate the vehicle from driver characteristics in communicating to consumers how the vehicle, as opposed to the driver and the roadway environment, contributes to crash occurrence and injury outcomes. In summary, advances have been made in understanding vehicle safety, particularly how vehicles perform in crashes and the mechanisms that cause injury. Some of this information has been made available to consumers in a form that enables comparisons of vehicle safety features and characteristics, but much more could be done to make the information useful. CONSUMER DECISION-MAKING AND SAFETY INFORMATION REQUIREMENTS To be most effective, consumer safety information should be based on a systematic understanding of what consumers know about vehicle safety and how they go about obtaining and using infor-

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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information mation in making automobile purchase decisions. Research should be conducted on what people know and believe about automobile safety and how they think about safety in selecting among different types of vehicles as an important step in developing improved consumer automotive safety information. Such research, which should be undertaken by NHTSA, is neither conceptually difficult nor expensive. Market surveys suggest the existence of a growing safety-conscious market segment of new car purchasers. Yet it is unclear what consumers understand about safety—whether they equate safety with the presence of specific features like air bags, or whether they also have an understanding of the more basic factors that affect vehicle performance in a crash, like vehicle weight and size. Nor is it clear how they incorporate safety information in making automobile purchase decisions. The available survey data suggest that safety considerations are used most often to help narrow choices among specific makes and models once consumers have decided on a general type of vehicle on the basis of intended use, budget constraints, and other preferences. A better understanding of what consumers believe or understand about vehicle safety and how and when they think about safety in choosing a vehicle is important to the design of a communication that is relevant and useful to the consumer. Once the context and content of the information are more clearly defined, determining how best to communicate and disseminate it is also a matter for empirical study. Information is likely to be considered if it is simple to acquire and use and is provided at the appropriate time. The limited information that is available, which must be confirmed by more systematic studies by NHTSA, suggests that consumers would like a standardized comprehensive vehicle safety rating applied to all passenger vehicles, independent sources of information (e.g., the government), and information made available early in the search process—not just at the point of sale. KEY FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS Findings On the basis of a review of knowledge about vehicle safety characteristics, crash likelihood, and injury causation as well as the information currently available to consumers, the committee reached the following conclusions:

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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information Considerable information about vehicle safety characteristics and features is available to consumers, but it is not always timely, accessible, or in a form that readily supports comparison shopping. Several steps could be taken in the short term to address these limitations (see recommendations). In the long term, summary measures of vehicle safety would help consumers incorporate safety in new vehicle purchase decisions. At present, development of a defensible summary measure of vehicle crashworthiness is feasible only if current knowledge is supplemented with expert judgment. The uncertainties of present knowledge preclude development of a measure constructed strictly on scientific grounds, but, in the committee's judgment, the relation between vehicle characteristics and occupant protection is sufficiently strong that a useful measure of crashworthiness can be developed if expert judgment is used and the uncertainties are acknowledged. The most reliable estimates can probably be achieved if experts begin with information about the relation between crashworthiness and vehicle weight and size, and then use analysis combined with their expert professional judgment to incorporate results from crash tests, highway crash statistics, and a variety of other factors, such as the presence or absence of specific design features. Over time the estimates can be improved by development of more field-relevant crash tests and test criteria, more reliable test dummies, and collection of more comparable and consistent field accident data. The state of knowledge is not well enough advanced, even with expert judgment, to develop a corresponding summary measure for crash avoidance. A major problem is the limited role that vehicle characteristics (as opposed to driving behavior) currently play in predicting crash likelihood. However, with many vehicle technology improvements (e.g., collision avoidance systems) in development, crash avoidance features may play a larger role in the future, and continuing attention to this area is merited. Recommendations On the basis of these findings, the committee recommends the following measures to improve the provision of automotive safety information to consumers.

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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information Improvements to Existing Information In the short term, the following measures would improve the automotive safety information available to consumers: Consumers could be provided with more explicit information on The importance of vehicle size and weight in crash outcomes, The benefits of proper use of vehicle safety features such as occupant restraint systems and antilock brakes, The frequency of crash types for which crash test results are available, and The uncertainties associated with crash test results. The reliability of crash test results should be established and the sources of variance identified. The presentation and dissemination of existing vehicle safety information could be improved by increasing awareness that the information is available and by making it more accessible. Development of Summary Measures In the longer term, new summary measures could be developed to provide consumers with comparative safety information on overall vehicle performance that is more helpful than current data in making purchase decisions. The following recommendations indicate how development of summary measures could be accomplished: From the consumers' perspective, one overall measure that combines the relative importance of vehicle crashworthiness and crash avoidance features would be ideal. However, for the foreseeable future, summary measures of crashworthiness and crash avoidance should be presented separately because of differences in the current level of knowledge and in the roles of the vehicle and the driver in the two areas. An effort to develop a summary measure of crashworthiness should go forward, incorporating defensible information supplemented with the professional judgment of automotive experts, statisticians, and decision analysts and reflecting the range of uncertainty associated with those judgments. For now, a checklist of safety features related to crash avoidance rather than a summary measure is recommended. Because consumers differ in the amount of detail they want and can manage, communication of new vehicle safety measures can best be

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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information accomplished through a hierarchically organized approach. The most highly summarized information should be provided on a vehicle label that includes a simple graphical display of comparative crashworthiness performance and a checklist of crash avoidance features. Product labels, such as the energy efficiency label for major appliances and the fuel economy label on passenger vehicles, provide model formats that consumers have found useful and easy to understand. Because of the amount of information already provided on vehicle window stickers —price, fuel economy, vehicle features—a separate label is desirable for all vehicle safety-related information. It may be necessary to display the summary safety information in some other prominent location because of limitations on window space for some vehicles and concerns about visibility in driving test vehicles. An accompanying brochure would contain more detailed explanations of the summary measures, the assumptions used in their calculation, and their key components such as vehicle size and weight. A handbook would provide complete comparisons among vehicles. These materials should be developed, tested, and refined with groups of typical users. A multichannel approach is recommended for dissemination of vehicle safety information. Consumers need safety information to assist decision making well before they reach the dealer, and product labels are more effective if they are part of an overall communications strategy. A mix of dissemination outlets is suggested, including NHTSA's safety hotline and the Internet, insurance industry and automobile club mailings, and reprints in consumer journals. Development of a segment for driver education courses on purchasing a safe car, and of course public service advertising, should help increase awareness of the label and backup materials. Before these steps are taken, preliminary research into consumer decision making and safety information requirements should be undertaken by NHTSA. Such research should address How consumers conceptualize automotive safety, How consumers apply safety information in selecting among vehicle types and specific models, and How automotive safety information can best be communicated and disseminated to consumers.

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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information Development of a Process To Stimulate Better Consumer Safety Information and Safer Cars Finally, there are a number of organizational considerations that must be addressed in any effort to develop the measures outlined. Development of summary measures of vehicle safety for consumers should not be viewed as an end in itself but rather as part of a continuing long-term process to yield both better consumer information and safer cars. The Secretary of the Department of Transportation (DOT) should encourage automobile manufacturers and the insurance industry, among others, to join NHTSA in a voluntary effort to achieve these goals. Congress should initiate the process with a formal request and appropriate funding, charging DOT to ensure the development by 2000 of reliable summary vehicle safety measures and a mechanism for continuing improvements. The secretary would issue a progress report to Congress in 18 months and determine the most appropriate organizational structure to carry the program forward. If for any reason the voluntary process reaches a stalemate, legislative action would be necessary. Two organizational approaches to oversee the process were identified as most desirable: (a) establishment of a federal advisory committee and (b) creation of a public-private Automotive Safety Institute (ASI). The functions of the two organizations would be the same—development of improved vehicle safety information, including summary safety measures, and dissemination strategies. They would also develop a program of long-term applied research leading to advances in crash testing, design procedures, and vehicle technologies to yield better safety measures and safer automobile designs. With a NHTSA-appointed advisory committee, the process could start quickly with a modest annual investment of $1 million to $2 million and NHTSA staff support. The ASI approach, which would involve a partnership between NHTSA, the automobile manufacturers selling in the U.S. market, and the insurance industry, probably offers the best chance of achieving a sustained long-term program. However, a new institute would be more difficult to establish and could cost more. Under either alternative, a fully operational program of research and vehicle testing and design initiatives would require annual resources of $10 million to $20 million or more, most of which could be expected to come from participating industries.

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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information BENEFITS OF CONSUMER AUTOMOTIVE SAFETY INFORMATION A program to improve consumer vehicle safety information would have many benefits. Meaningful comparative information that is widely accessible and easy to obtain and use can provide a powerful market stimulus influencing consumer choice and manufacturer design of safer vehicles, ultimately reducing the number of fatalities and injuries. With about 15 million new passenger vehicles sold each year, there is a large potential market for clear and understandable comparative safety information. Moreover, automobile manufacturers would have an incentive to design safety improvements so their products receive good ratings on summary safety measures. Manufacturers would also benefit from a program with the potential to integrate crash test with safety information requirements and from the increased demand of more safety-conscious consumers for new cars with the most advanced safety features. The insurance industry would benefit from any reduction in claims arising from crashes. Finally, the value of even a small decline in net fatalities that could be attributed to a consumer automotive safety information program could be considerable, and, in the committee's judgment, might easily exceed the costs of supplying better information to consumers and vehicle designers. For example, using current estimates of the public's willingness to pay to reduce the risk of death in a motor vehicle crash, a $20 million per year program of research and information would only need to achieve a net mortality reduction on the order of 10 deaths per year to justify program expenditures.