This issue of the Insurance Research Council’s (IRC) Public Attitude Monitor 1999 focuses on three subjects. The first is the importance of vehicle safety, crash test ratings, and other safety information to purchasers of passenger vehicles, and sources used by consumers when obtaining vehicle safety information. The second topic is public attitudes toward the safety of sport utility vehicles (SUVs). Current data on auto accident injuries and fatalities show that, in multiple car collisions involving an SUV and a passenger car, the occupants of the passenger car are four times more likely to sustain fatalities. The data also show that SUVs have a greater likelihood of rollover accidents compared to passenger vehicles. The third subject is the problem of uninsured drivers.

Major Findings

Respondents were asked whether they purchased or leased an auto in the past three years. 38% (761 respondents) stated that they had. The following findings are based on this subset of the total study sample:

  • 78% state that vehicle safety was important to their decisions of which autos to lease or buy, with 46% stating that vehicle safety was very important.
  • When asked specifically about the importance of crash test information to recent vehicle purchases or leases, 46% report that crash test information was important. 33% indicate that they did not obtain crash test information on their prospective vehicles.
  • Vehicle safety and crash test information are more likely to be rated as important among auto consumers at higher income and educational levels.
  • 54% sought information about specific safety features, such as airbags or antilock brakes (ABS), one-quarter sought information about the handling of vehicles, 23% sought crash test results, and 15% reviewed the accident experiences, injury rates, and accident statistics.
  • Popular sources of vehicle safety information include: car salespeople (37%), Consumer Reports (29%), newspaper reports and car magazines (18%), auto manufacturers (17%), friends (15%), and the Internet (14%).
  • The following findings are based on the entire study sample.

  • 15% state that they or someone in their household currently own or operate SUVs. SUV possession was slightly more common among respondents aged 35 to 44 years (21%), respondents at higher income and educational levels, and respondents in the western regions of the U.S. (20%).
  • Respondents were asked whether they thought they would be safer in a passenger car or in an SUV, when in a single-car accident. Similar numbers of respondents say that they would be safer in a large passenger car (30%) as in an SUV (27%). 21% indicate that they would be equally safe in either vehicle. 22% state that they don’t know which vehicle would be safer.
  • 48% report having seen or heard a news story about the safety of SUVs in collisions. Of these, 46% state that the report focused on the high risk of rollover accidents associated with SUVs. 38% report having seen or heard about the extensive damage caused by SUVs when they are involved in accidents with passenger cars. Other comments on the content of news stories are: occupants of passenger cars have greater risk of injury or death if they are hit by an SUV (22%), SUVs protect occupants better than passenger cars (16%), and SUVs do not perform well in crash tests (15%).
  • 41% report that SUV drivers should be insured at rates that are about the same as those of passenger car drivers, and 28% report that some SUV insurance rates should be higher because of the extensive damage SUVs may cause in collisions with passenger cars. 10% indicate that the insurance rates of some SUVs should be lower due to the greater protection they afford their occupants. The other 20% have no opinion on the subject. SUV drivers are almost three times as likely as non-SUV drivers to state that the insurance premiums of some SUVs should be lower than those of passenger cars. Respondents who do not drive SUVs are twice as likely as SUV drivers to report that the rates of some SUVs should be higher.

  • How Important Was Vehicle Safety to Recent Vehicle Purchase or Lease ?

    Based on Consumers who Purchased or Leased Autos in Past Three Years

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    Source: Insurance Research Council

    What Sources of Vehicle Safety Information Did You Use Before Recent Vehicle Purchase or Lease ?

    Based on Consumers Who Purchased or Leased Autos in Past Three Years and Sought Vehicle Safety Information Before Purchase Decision

    Source: Insurance Research Council

    For copies of the complete report, please contact the IRC by phone at (610) 644-2212; by fax (610) 640-5388; or by e-mail at Or, visit IRC’s web site