It’s easy to assume that convertibles – be it soft top or hard top – are naturally more dangerous than their “normal” counterparts, as occupants are more exposed to the elements. However, a new study published by the United States’ Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found through statistical data that topless cars are just as safe – if not, maybe even a little safer – than their non-convertible counterparts.
Using historical data between 2014 to 2018 from the country’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the non-profit organisation found that both crash rates and driver death rates were lower for convertibles than the nonconvertible versions of the same cars.
Specifically, convertibles were involved in 6% fewer police-reported crashes per miles travelled than their conventional counterparts. Driver death rates were also found to be 11% lower. All car models featured in the study were no more than five year-old.
Although, as you might expect from the lack of a top physical barrier, 21% of convertible drivers killed in crashes were ejected from their vehicles, compared to 17% on non-convertibles. In rollover crashes, the likelihood of ejection was found to be 43%, versus 35% for their conventional counterparts.
Statistically speaking, these differences are not enough to claim that convertibles are actually safer, but Eric Teoh, IIHS director of statistical service and author of the paper, said that “they do indicate there’s no statistical basis for concerns that the lack of a permanent roof makes them more dangerous“.
Of course, there are definitely more than one reason behind the lower crash and death rates. One of which, IIHS hypothesises, is due to the fact that convertibles are mostly driven for leisure purposes, where the better driving conditions and rate of usage could potentially affect crash rates and thus perceived safety.
Despite the limitations of the study, Teoh was confident that they made the best statistical considerations and can confidently conclude that convertibles do not pose a higher safety risk than their non-convertible counterparts.
Convertibles have come a long way in terms of safety; most modern convertibles – such as the recently-launched Porsche 911 Speedster and Ferrari F8 Spider – all feature specific safety considerations such as reinforced A pillars, to pop-up rollover protection behind the passengers.
So if you’re still on the fence about buying a convertible due to the safety concerns, There is no need to worry. Just like “normal cars”, Teoh recommends potential owners to judge their safety performance through their crash test ratings.