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Which Cars Have the Highest, Lowest Death Rates?

A new report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows that while car safety has continued to improve in most late-model vehicles, some vehicles still have alarmingly high death rates.

According to the IIHS, among 2011 model-year cars or equivalent earlier model vehicles, there were 28 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years through 2012. (A "registered vehicle year" equals one vehicle registered for one year.) This is down significantly from 2008-09, in which there were 48 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years. But while nine 2011 or equivalent earlier model vehicles had a driver death rate of zero, several other models had death rates exceeding 100.

Which cars have the highest and lowest death rates according to IIHS statistics? And what should drivers know when trying to choose a safe car?

Safe, Deadly Cars

The IIHS found that in general, the smallest vehicles have the highest death rates, with the Kia Rio having the highest death rate, at 149 per million registered vehicle years. Most of the vehicles that made the institute's list of safest cars -- those with 6 or fewer driver deaths per million registered vehicle years -- were SUVs or minivans, although several midsize cars also made the list.

The vehicles with the lowest rate of driver deaths include:

  • 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
  • Volvo XC90 4WD
  • Honda Pilot 4WD
  • Mercedes-Benz M-Class 4WD
  • Ford Crown Victoria
  • GMC Yukon 4WD
  • Acura TL 2WD
  • Chevrolet Equinox 2WD
  • Chevrolet Equinox 4WD
  • Ford Expedition 4WD
  • Ford Flex 2WD
  • Mazda CX-9 4WD

Among the vehicles with more than 46 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years were many small or mini-size vehicles, but also one full-size pickup truck and several SUVs.

The list of vehicles with the highest driver death rates, according to the IIHS, includes:

  • Kia Rio
  • Nissan Versa sedan
  • Hyundai Accent
  • Chevrolet Aveo
  • Hyundai Accent
  • Chevrolet Camaro coupe
  • Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Crew 4WD
  • Honda Civic
  • Nissan Versa hatchback
  • Ford Focus
  • Nissan Cube
  • Chevrolet HHR
  • Chevrolet Suburban 1500 2WD
  • Chevrolet Aveo
  • Mercury Grand Marquis
  • Jeep Patriot 2WD
  • Mazda 6
  • Dodge Nitro 2WD
  • Honda Civic

Vehicle Designs Have Improved Safety

One major factor in improving the safety of automobiles is improving design and safety technology. In particular, the IIHS cites electronic stabilization control (ESC) -- which helps prevent SUVs from rollover crashes -- for taking SUVs from one of the most dangerous types of vehicles a decade ago to now being being the safest of any vehicle type. Generally, the report found that as a car's size increases, the death rate declines.

Learn more about the liability for automobile accidents and injuries at FindLaw's section on Car Accident Liability.

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