I honestly thought that the US standards (FMVSS) were safer since our crash testing tended to be more strict, such as testing the car during a rollover. Not sure what this would mean for the current Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations for harmonization/mutual recognition of vehicle standards, but it could make a strong case for the US to switch over to the global EU (UN-ECE) standard (not going to happen anytime soon though).
Of particular concern to safety groups is the finding that passengers in a typical EU model are 33 per cent safer in front-side collisions, an accident that often results in serious injury, than those in a typical US model.
That 33 percent figure is based on # of collisions vs. amount seriously injured.
Here’s a relevant NPR piece on this subject. One major difference in design is that US models are crash tested for unbelted occupants while the EU models are crash tested assuming you’re wearing a seat belt, so it seems the EU models are optimized for belted occupants, while the US models have to compromise belted occupant safety to save unbelted occupants.
However, the overwhelming majority (85+ percent) of US drivers do wear seat belts, according to this:
photo credit: Ugo Missana on Flickr