Crash fatality risk and unibody versus body-on-frame structure in SUVs

Accid Anal Prev. 2014 Sep;70:267-72. doi: 10.1016/j.aap.2014.03.019. Epub 2014 May 10.


Background: In crashes between cars and SUVs, car occupants are more likely to be killed than if they crashed with another car. An increasing proportion of SUVs are built with unibody, rather than truck-like body-on-frame construction. Unibody SUVs are generally lighter, less stiff, and less likely to roll over than body-on-frame SUVs, but whether unibody structure affects risk of death in crashes is unknown.

Objective: To determine whether unibody SUVs differ from body-on-frame SUVs in the danger they pose to occupants of other vehicles and in the self-protection they offer to their own occupants.

Methods: Case-control study of crashes between one compact SUV and one other passenger vehicle in the US during 1995-2008, in which the SUV was model year 1996-2006. Cases were all decedents in fatal crashes, one control was selected from each non-fatal crash.

Findings: Occupants of passenger vehicles that crashed with compact unibody SUVs were at 18% lower risk of death compared to those that crashed with compact body-on-frame SUVs (adjusted odds ratio 0.82 (95% confidence interval 0.73-0.94)). Occupants of compact unibody SUVs were also at lower risk of death compared to occupants of body-on-frame SUVs (0.86 (0.72-1.02)).

Conclusions: In two-vehicle collisions involving compact SUVs, unibody structure was associated with lower risk of death both in occupants of other vehicles in the crash, and in SUVs' own occupants.

Keywords: Body-on-frame construction; Compatibility; SUVs; Unibody construction.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / mortality*
  • Automobiles*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Odds Ratio
  • Risk Factors
  • Safety / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States / epidemiology