The clumsy interpretation of a study on the safety of large cars

The clumsy interpretation of a study on the safety of large cars

For the past few days, many media have taken up a study published on February 5, 2022 in the journal Springers, produced by a professor from the IESEG school in Lille and another from the BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo. The study in question begins first by compiling the accidentology figures in the world, estimating at some 1800 billion dollars the cost of injuries caused in the world between 2015 and 2030 by accidents. She then recalls that in 2018, the WHO estimated the number of deaths worldwide at 1,350,000, compared to less than 1,200,000 in the year 2000. Data showing that there are more and more accidents serious in the world, except in Europe and in the Western Pacific region.

The study then focuses on a main question: knowing that cars tend to get bigger year after year and that customers are increasingly flocking to SUVs, does the size of these cars have an effect on the driver behavior? For this, those responsible for the study collaborated with a Belgian company working on a driving simulator designed by Green Dino. No less than 49 participants, students aged 18 to 23, took turns for 20 minutes each at the controls of the simulator in a special room. They were compensated with 8€ in exchange for their participation. Note that they all had a valid driver’s license. Once in the simulator, they were made to drive the virtual equivalent of a small Toyota Yaris and a Toyota Avensis family sedan, after being shown an image of the two cars in question. A second study group, comprising 214 people including 120 women with ages between 18 and 27 years old and all having driving licenses (paid 6€ each), was subjected to another much less concrete test: they were told asked to describe several cars presented in pictures (each time a small and a large model of the same brand). They then had to rate these cars according to the criteria of safety, quality of finish, price and performance. Then engage in other more general tests.

Greater risk taking in the big car?

Based on the behaviors of the young “guinea pigs” studied in the simulator and those of the other experiment, the study concludes that driving a large car pushes the motorist to take more risks behind the wheel. The driver would indeed feel better protected by the vehicle and would therefore allow himself maneuvers that he would not dare at the wheel of a smaller car. They would also drive in a more “sporty” way than in the city car. However, the chosen methodology seems to us a little light to draw such generalities: the subjects are all the same age (between 18 and 27 years old) and profiles a priori quite similar, with a reduced number in absolute terms (49+214 people). The tests are also purely theoretical without any truly practical and realistic test. And above all, we are surprised at the turns of phrase read here and there in the press about this study: “Are we really safer in a big car? »title for example 20 minutes. “You’re not safer in a big car”adds Numerama. “No, we are not safer driving an SUV”squarely extrapolate our colleagues from The gallery. However, there is no element in the study which makes it possible to affirm that a large car is less safe than a small one. Only elements indicating that a driver could on average take more risks behind the wheel. This still remains to be verified, even if it would not seem at all illogical.

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