The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently released a major study regarding death rates from auto accidents, and while the results are not unexpected, they do provide some context for the (relatively) current state of vehicular safety.
According to the IIHS, the number of driver deaths per million vehicles registered in the U.S. has fallen from 110 for 1989-1993 models, to 87 for 1999-2002 models, to 79 for 2002-2005 models, to 48 in the most current study, which looked at vehicles from the 2005-2008 model years that were sold during calendar years 2006-2009. That’s a pretty dramatic decline, and the IIHS says most of it has to do with two semi-related factors. First, a number of smaller, rollover-prone SUVs from the IIHS’ first death-rate studies dropped out of production, and second, more and more of the newer sport utilities gained electronic stability control, an important technology for reducing these kinds of accidents.
Thus, while the study covering 1999-2002 reported an SUV death rate that was nearly equal to that of cars—82 per million for sport utilities and 88 per million for cars—the most current data show SUVs to be essentially twice as safe as cars, with a death rate of 28 per million for the former and 56 per million for the latter. Of course, a lot of this discrepancy has to do with the laws of physics, which mandate that bigger, heavier vehicles are going to be safer than smaller and lighter ones, as shown clearly by the data breakouts.
Eight of the top-10 vehicles in terms of fewest driver deaths per million vehicles registered were non-cars, with that list (and overall driver deaths) including:
Audi A6 (0)
Mercedes E-Class (0)
Toyota Sienna (0)
Ford Edge (0)
Nissan Armanda (0)
Land Rover Range Rover Sport (0)
Land Rover LR3 (0)
Honda CR-V (7)
Jeep Grand Cherokee (11)
Acura MDX (11)
Interestingly, the IIHS specifically tags only the all- or four-wheel-drive versions of all of these, except for the Sienna, as the safest, but no explicit mention is made of the actual safety benefits of driving all four wheels at once. It’s particularly odd because comparing the data for the same models with different drive configurations shows a clear advantage for AWD/4WD. For example, the Nissan Frontier crew cab with four-wheel-drive just missed the 21-deaths-per-million cutoff for the top 25 safest vehicles, while the exact same model with two-wheel-drive, with 77 deaths per million, was among the 25 most deadly.
As far as which automaker had the most vehicles among the top 25 (as deep as the overall list went), Honda led the way with a mix of eight models, including three from Acura. Unsurprisingly, expanding the list also shows an additional five cars among the next 15 entries, and two were Acuras: the 3.2 TL and RL. The other cars were the Saab 9-3, Mercedes E-Class with 2WD, and the Honda Accord.
Turning to the deadliest 10 vehicles—none of which were equipped with AWD/4WD—the ranking from the bottom up was:
Nissan 350Z (143)
Nissan Titan crew cab (126)
Chevrolet Aveo (119)
Chevrolet Cobalt (117)
Nissan Titan extended cab (111)
Kia Spectra hatch (102)
Chevrolet Malibu Classic (99)
Hyundai Tiburon (96)
Nissan Versa (96)
Chevrolet Colorado ext. cab (93)
Nissan, which also counted the Titan crew cab with 4WD, Maxima and Frontier crew cab with 2WD among the worst 25, stood out from the crowd here, although GM came close to matching that mark by also adding the Buick Lucerne and Buick LaCrosse to the list. The South Koreans had 20 percent of the most-deadly 25, counting the Spectra and Tiburon along with the Kia Spectra sedan, Kia Rio and Hyundai Elantra—which shows how far Hyundai has had to come to earn IIHS Top Safety Pick status for the Kia Forte (the Spectra’s replacement) and the new Elantra.
For a complete rundown on the IIHS study, visit: http://www.iihs.org/externaldata/srdata/docs/sr4605.pdf.