More expensive gas, more costly injuries?

Expensive gasoline isn't the only downside of oil at almost $120 a barrel, claims the Insurance Research Council. Rising energy expense could also boost car-accident injuries as drivers switch to smaller vehicles, the group says.

The institute took 9,000 accident claims from 2007 and broke them down according to vehicle weight.


It found that the people driving compacts, sports cars and other smaller cars submitted injury claims that were 14 percent larger, on average, than those of people driving SUVs and other larger vehicles. Small-car accidents also caused more people to lose work time because of injury than large-vehicle accidents.

(To be precise, the institute compared the average injury claim for cars in the bottom one-fourth of the weight spectrum - less than 2,772 pounds - with those from cars in the top fourth, which were more than 3,725 pounds.)


There are some problems with drawing too many conclusions from the study, one of which the institute acknowledges: Expensive gas compels people to drive less, which decreases accidents and injuries in all kinds of cars.

"Our findings indicate that higher average claim costs associated with lighter vehicles have the potential to offset, to some extent, whatever beneficial effects might occur from less driving," Elizabeth A. Sprinkel, senior vice president at the institute, said in a prepared statement.

The other point to be made is that as vehicles become lighter on average, small cars' chances of getting T-boned by a monster SUV also go down.

Jay Hancock's column also appears Wednesdays and Saturdays.