You are not safer in the big car

You can feel safe in a big car. However, it is precisely the people who drive the largest vehicles who tend to take the most risks behind the wheel, as two marketers explained in the conversation.

According to a study published in scalpel Public health and road traffic injuries are expected to cost the global economy $1.8 trillion between 2015 and 2030, or 0.12% of global GDP each year. In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated the number of deaths worldwide as a result of road accidents at 1,350,000 (compared to less than 1,200,000 in 2000). In more than half of the cases, the victims are the most vulnerable users: cyclists and pedestrians.

Motorists’ behavior remains a key component of this problem. Road safety measures, in relation to vehicle safety equipment or the highway code, have multiplied in recent decades. With some success in Europe and East Asia, where the death rate decreased. But the trend is still bullish elsewhere.

In road safety policies, the link between risky driver behavior and vehicle size has not been considered in the equation. However, by understanding what drives drivers to take risks we can also reduce road accidents and reduce their impact on society.

This correlation between vehicle size and risk is not clear. On the other hand, consumers feel reassured when choosing big cars. On the other hand, statistics show that large cars are often involved in accidents, which may indicate that drivers of large cars take more risks.

Large cars often get into accidents. // Source: Pexels / Kin Pastor (cropped image)

They are a “safety pad” on a large car

There are more and more big cars on the roads. According to the International Energy Agency, there were at least 35 million more SUVs on the roads around the world in 2021, with record levels in France, the UK, Germany and China.

At the same time, the volume of best-selling models has been growing for a few decades. A study by UK-based specialist credit broker Zuto provides some interesting examples: the Ford Mustang has grown 63% in size since 1964, and the mini has 61%.

If the size of the vehicles affects the behavior of motorists, then this race in terms of size will have negative repercussions on road accidents. This observation led us to explore the following idea in our research: Do large cars give drivers the impression that they have a “safety pad” that encourages them to take more risks?

We used a highly realistic driver training simulator to test the driving differences between small and large cars. Simulation settings remained the same, but participants were told they were driving either a small car (Toyota Yaris) or a large car (Toyota Avensis Wagon). They were asked to drive normally during the simulation.

The results showed that participants who thought they were driving a big car drove more sporty and had more risky behavior than smaller cars. But the car was the same, with a similar reaction when pressing the accelerator or brake pedal. Only the behavior changed. So they thought they were better protected in big cars and took more risks.

The feeling of safety continues outside the car

A second experiment showed that this overall rise in risk had other consequences. We asked ourselves whether drivers took more risks once they got out of their car, and noted that the feeling of safety the car provided was already a good indicator of risk in general, i.e. also less off the road.

Other studies support this finding. For example, previous research has shown that truck drivers often have an accident soon after leaving their vehicle. The explanation is that the feeling of safety inside the truck extends outside the car and leads to excessive risk-taking.

So the risk takes place at different levels, at the wheel of the big car and then once outside the cockpit. The “safety pad” effect can also encourage a person to buy or not buy a lottery ticket at a service station, or a drink in place of another drink.

A penalty kick from 1800 kg in France

Thus, these findings encourage governments to prioritize taxes based on the weight or size of the vehicle, which already exists in many European countries, with the goal of road safety. In France, a law imposing a penalty of 1,800 kg has been in effect since 2022.

These measures would be justified because large cars can also cause more damage in the event of an accident because of their size and put more pressure on infrastructure: they damage roads more and require more parking space.

Knowing this, infrastructure can also be designed to save lives. In fact, if the streets were narrower, the risks to drivers of large vehicles would be less because they would slow down.

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Bart Claus, Assistant Professor of Marketing, IÉSEG School of Management Luke Warloop, Professor of Marketing, Norwegian Business School BI

This article has been republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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