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The role of the vehicle in car accidents

Are some makes and models more likely to be involved in accidents than others? Does the car you drive make a big difference in whether you get into an accident? Does it affect how you'll come out of that accident? While many people would prefer to drive a safer vehicle, distinguishing from one to the next is not so easy. Here are a few tips when looking for the right vehicle for you and your family.

Crashworthy, or death trap?

There are two organizations that conduct crash testing on new vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety each assign safety grades to vehicles based on how they perform in a crash. If you want the best chance at surviving or escaping major injury in a crash, choose a vehicle that received top grades from these organizations.

The physics of an auto collision

Any boxer can tell you that it's better to be hit by someone small than someone large. When it comes to vehicle collisions, size matters. Consumers face a difficult choice here. Lighter cars generally get better mileage. The environment prefers we drive lightweight cars, if we drive at all. But when it comes to a crash, you are better off being in a heavier car, truck or SUV.

A caveat to this is that some types of accidents turn more on center of gravity than total weight. If you want to avoid a rollover accident, you want a car that is heavy, with a low center of gravity. If a car is heavy, but rides high, it is more likely to flip if you get tuned sideways or undercut.

The latest tech

Some safety equipment is optional. Newer vehicles are more likely to come with better safety equipment in the base package. Likewise, expensive vehicles are likely to include this equipment without an extra charge. Some safety gadgets are better than others, however. If you don't know how to incorporate your backup camera, blind-spot warning device, lane-departure warning device and other features into safe driving, they may do more harm than good. Make sure you understand what your vehicle does and can do to maximize the benefits of safety gear.

The hard, cold truth

More than 90 percent of accidents are caused by driver error. That means that your best chance of getting home safely is to be a safe driver. Avoid distractions. Never drink and drive. Don't drive when you are drowsy. Don't speed or drive aggressively. Even the safest car on the market can't overcome a driver who makes dangerous mistakes. The skill and focus of the person behind the wheel is far more important than the vehicle he or she is driving.

Source: New York Daily News, "How do you know if the car you're buying is safe? You need to understand what makes it safe in the first place" by Christian Wardlaw, 7 May 2018

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