An Analysis of the Relationship between Casualty Risk Per Crash and Vehicle Mass and Footprint for Model Year 2003-2010 Light-Duty Vehicles

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The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Vehicle Technologies Office funds research on development of technologies to improve the fuel economy of both light- and heavy-duty vehicles, including advanced combustion systems, improved batteries and electric drive systems, and new lightweight materials. Of these approaches to increase fuel economy and reduce fuel consumption, reducing vehicle mass through more extensive use of strong lightweight materials is perhaps the easiest and least expensive method; however, there is a concern that reducing vehicle mass may lead to more fatalities. 
The relationship between vehicle mass and safety has been debated for many years. This debate has become more relevant with the advent of much more stringent federal fuel economy and greenhouse gas emission standards for new light-duty vehicles. The model year 2017 to 2025 standards are based on the footprint (wheelbase times track width) of each vehicle, with more stringent standards for smaller vehicles; the intent is to encourage manufacturers to make vehicles lighter to meet the standards while maintaining size, without compromising safety.

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