ARLINGTON, Virginia — Car shoppers got some reassuring news about vehicle safety in a new report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The chances of dying in a crash in a late-model vehicle have fallen by more than a third in three years.
"This is a huge improvement in just three years, even considering the economy's influence," said David Zuby, the Institute's executive vice president and chief research officer. "We know from our vehicle-ratings program that crash-test performance has been getting steadily better. These latest death rates provide new confirmation that real-world outcomes are improving, too."
Improved vehicle designs and safety technology are big contributors to the decline in fatality risk.
In a dramatic illustration of the trend, the Institute said that nine vehicles, 2011 model year or equivalent earlier models, had driver death rates of zero. They are the Audi A4 4WD, Honda Odyssey, Kia Sorento 2WD, Lexus RX 350 4WD, Mercedes-Benz GL-Class 4WD, Subaru Legacy 4WD, Toyota Highlander Hybrid 4WD, Toyota Sequoia 4WD and Volvo XC90 4WD.
"One striking thing about the group zero-death vehicles — aside from the sheer number — is that two-thirds of them are SUVs," the report noted.
A decade ago, SUVs had some of the highest rates because they could easily roll over. But the advent of electronic stability control has cut that risk.
Just eight years ago, there were no models with driver death rates of zero.
According to the study, the vehicle with the highest death rate among 2011 models is the Kia Rio small car, with 149 driver deaths per million registered vehicle year. It's one of only three vehicles with death rates above 100. The other two are the Nissan Versa sedan, with 130 deaths, and the Hyundai Accent, with 120 deaths.
"Minicars and small cars dominate the worst list," the report said. "That's not surprising, since these vehicles can't protect as well as larger ones. Death rates by vehicle type and size show that the smallest vehicles typically have the highest death rates, and, with some exceptions, death rates tend to go down as size goes up."
For car shoppers wondering why new models aren't included in the report, the Institute said: "It takes considerable time to gather and tabulate the real-world data needed to provide statistically significant results for new models."
It advises shoppers "for vehicles that have not been fundamentally redesigned, previous model year results are good predictors of the current model's experience."
Edmunds says: Some fascinating information to consider before you head out to your local dealership.