Objectives: Two phases of attempts to improve passenger car crash worthiness have occurred: minimum safety standards and publicized crash tests. This study evaluated these attempts, as well as changes in seat belt and alcohol use, in terms of their effect on occupant death and fatal crash rates.
Methods: Data on passenger car occupant fatalities and total involvement in fatal crashes, for 1975 through 1991, were obtained from the Fatal Accident Reporting System. Rates per mile were calculated through published sources on vehicle use by vehicle age. Regression estimates of effects of regulation, publicized crash tests, seat belt use and alcohol involvement were obtained.
Results: Substantial reductions in fatalities occurred in the vehicle model years from the late 1960s through most of the 1970s, when federal standards were applied. Some additional increments in reduced death rates, attributable to additional improved vehicle crashworthiness, occurred during the period of publicized crash tests. Increased seat belt use and reduced alcohol use also contributed significantly to reduced deaths.
Conclusions: Minimum safety standards, crashworthiness improvements, seat belt use laws, and reduced alcohol use each contributed to a large reduction in passenger car occupant deaths.