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Pricier, heavier vehicles are safer, national study by UB concludes

You get what you pay for in cars if safety is your major concern.

That’s the conclusion of a University at Buffalo study presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine in San Diego.

The researchers conducted a retrospective study of 360 vehicle models from 2010 to 2012 based on insurance losses tracked by the Highway Loss Data Institute, a nonprofit organization funded by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The result: Very large pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles – which are heavier and pricier than others – had the lowest frequency of personal-injury claims.

Vehicles with the best scores included:

Dodge Ram 2500 mega cab, GMC Sierra 1500, Ford F-150, GMC Sierra 2500 crew cab, Land Rover Range Rover, Chevrolet Silverado 2500 crew cab, Land Rover LR4, Ford F-250 supercab and Volvo XC60.

Also, Porsche Cayenne, Audi A6 four-door, Mini Cooper Countryman, Toyota Tacoma Xtra, Chevrolet Silverado 1500, Cadillac Escalade ESV, Ford F-150 supercab and Ford F-350 crew cab.

All of those are four-wheel drive except for the Porsche, Mini Cooper and Volvo.

Vehicles with the highest frequency of personal-injury claims and, as a result, deemed the least safe, were:

Suzuki SX4, Mitsubishi Galant, Dodge Avenger, Kia Forte, Nissan Versa, Hyundai Accent, Mitsubishi Lancer, Nissan Sentra, Dodge Caliber, Suzuki Grand Vitara four-wheel drive and Scion tC.

Also, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Versa hatchback, Dodge Charger, Nissan Altima two- and four-door, Chrysler 200, Nissan Rogue, Honda Accord two-door, Honda Civic two-door, Kia Forte two-door, Chevrolet Impala and Ford Fiesta.

“The most important point of our study is that vehicle weight and price have a positive relationship with vehicle safety,” said Dr. Dietrich V. Jehle, professor of emergency medicine in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, who presented the research May 14.

“We found that vehicle type, curb weight and price are all significant predictors of personal-injury cost,” he said.

“For every additional $10,000 you spend, injuries go down by almost 12 percent. We also found that for every 1,000-pound increase in weight, vehicles were 19 percent safer.”

The UB researchers used a different method to evaluate safety than the standard industry ratings. That is why the study’s findings rank some of America’s most popular cars, such as the Honda Accord and Civic and the Toyota Corolla, in the “least safe” category, the researchers said.

Jehle, who also is a physician at Erie County Medical Center, said the five-star crash ratings reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are based on results from crash tests that may be technically accurate but may not completely reflect what happens in real-world crashes with multiple cars.

“When smaller cars hit a larger, moving vehicle, that change in velocity can force the smaller car to go into reverse, resulting in far more serious injuries to driver and passenger,” he said.

Jehle and his colleagues instead used frequency of personal-injury claims as an indicator of vehicle safety in the 17 states that have no-fault insurance.

The personal-injury claim data also have limitations. For instance, the findings do not account for miles driven per vehicle. As such, the study excluded sports cars, which tend to be driven less than other cars.