The sheer bulk of modern cars has actually resulted in greater risk of death to drivers of older models in two-vehicle collisions, according to a Government-commissioned report.
The risk of death for a car driver in a collision with a vehicle registered in 2000-03 is 46 per cent greater than when in a crash with a car registered in 1988-91, the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) report said.
Modern cars have better secondary safety features (such as airbags and side-impact protection) than older cars, said the report for the Department for Transport.
The report went on: ‘These improvements have come at a price, however; in car-car collisions, modern cars tend to impose greater risk of fatal injury on the occupants of the other car than do older cars.
‘A modern car tends to be more aggressive than an older car when in collision with another car.’
The report said those driving the smallest types of car were four times more likely to be killed in collisions than motorists in the largest type of vehicle.
TRL said the ‘increased aggressivity’ of modern cars in fatal accidents was not foreseen when 2010 national accident rate reduction targets were formulated.
The report went on: ‘While the increase has not been sufficient to cancel out the benefits of improved secondary safety, it does help to explain why fatality rates for car drivers have fallen less rapidly than serious casualty rates in recent years.’
The report also said there was a trend for proportionately fewer casualties in more modern cars in frontal impacts and proportionately more when struck in the rear.
Also, the increase in casualty rates when in collision with more modern cars was found to be more pronounced on non built-up roads.
Andrew Howard, head of road safety for the AA’s public affairs unit, said: ‘Although there is no defeating the laws of physics, many older cars are driven by the type of drivers most likely to be involved in accidents, such as the young.
‘In addition, older cars are often driven by elderly motorists whose frailty makes them more prone to injury.
‘Crash-testing reports from the Euro New Car Assessment Programme (NCAP) give people looking to buy older cars useful information, available online, on a vehicle’s crash-worthiness.’
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