IRC Survey Points to Auto Safety as Major Factor in New Car Purchase

A recent Insurance Research Council (IRC) survey of U.S. households finds that nine out of 10 recent car purchasers (90 percent) rated safety as an important factor in their decision to purchase or lease a new vehicle, with six out of 10 rating safety as very important. The importance of vehicle safety has grown significantly since the topic was last examined in 1999, when slightly more than three-quarters of recent car purchasers (78 percent) rated safety as important, and fewer than half rated it as very important.

According to the report, given the considerable emphasis placed on safety in the selection of a new vehicle, it is not surprising that more than eight out of 10 recent purchasers (85 percent) stated that they looked for vehicle safety information before making their final purchase decision. This, again, represents an increase over the proportion seeking information in 1999 (68 percent). In terms of specific types of information sought, more than half of recent car purchasers looked for information about the safety features of prospective vehicles, such as air bags or anti-lock brakes. Nearly one in five respondents sought crash-test results. The car salesperson was the primary source for safety information among one-third of respondents, followed by the Internet and Consumer Reports.

The study also finds that the public is well informed about recent vehicle design improvements such as side air bags and the purpose and proper use of safety features such as head restraints. Most respondents (85 percent) were aware that automakers had begun to equip some vehicles with side air bags, and six in ten respondents stated that the availability of side air bags would be an important consideration in the selection of their next vehicle. Two-thirds of respondents (67 percent) were aware that the purpose of head restraints was for “safety/to protect the head,” and responses suggest that head restraints were positioned correctly by at least half of respondents who had adjustable restraints. Nearly all respondents (91 percent) endorsed some form of seat belt enforcement. The support for primary seat belt use laws increased significantly compared to previous years; 55 percent of respondents supported such laws this year versus 47 percent in 2000 and 44 percent in 1996.

“Vehicle safety is clearly a major concern of the American public, and it is of particular concern to consumers in the market for a new vehicle,” Elizabeth Sprinkel, senior vice president of the IRC, commented. “Combined with on-going efforts by insurers and other highway safety advocates, consumer demand for safer vehicles has played an essential role in advancing safety improvements in the auto market.”