The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently released the results of a study that indicates drivers of late-model cars and light trucks have a significantly reduced chance of dying in a car accident thanks to improved safety technology and vehicle designs.
Although a weak economy leading to driving cutbacks may have contributed somewhat, the enhanced safety features of late-model vehicles have decreased driver fatalities by more than one-third over a three-year period. Additionally, nine automobile models recorded zero deaths per million registered vehicles.
To be eligible for inclusion in the study, a vehicle must have had at least 100,000 registered vehicle years of usage during 2009-12, or at least 20 deaths. While these latest statistics represent 2011 models, the study included information from previous model-years as far back as 2008 if those vehicles had not been significantly redesigned prior to 2011.
The study examined the incidence of driver fatalities for each particular 2011 model during a year of operation, expressed as a rate per million registered vehicle years. Researchers discovered an average of 28 driver fatalities per million registered vehicle years through the 2012 calendar year- a decrease of 20 deaths per million from 2008 and 2009 models. Also, eight years ago, no models could boast a zero driver death rate.
In spite of the effects of the weakened economy, the institute declares the improvements to be monumental. For years, it has been known that crash test performance ratings were improving. However, this new data demonstrates real-world applications.
Electronic stability control as a standard safety feature has been widely praised as a factor in the declining death rate, especially for SUVs which were statistically prone to rollovers in the past. For 2011 model-year vehicles the rollover death rate was 5 per million registered vehicle years. That number represents less than one-quarter of the number it was for 2004 models. Additionally, six of the nine vehicles with a zero death rate for drivers were SUVs.
The nine models with zero driver death rates included:
- Audi A4 four-wheel drive midsize car
- Honda Odyssey minivan
- Kia Sorento two-wheel drive midsize SUV
- Mercedes-Benz GL-Class four-wheel drive luxury SUV
- Subaru Legacy four-wheel drive midsize car
- Toyota Highlander hybrid four-wheel drive midsize SUV
- Toyota Sequoia for-wheel drive large SUV
- Volvo XC90 four-wheel drive luxury midsize SUV
- Lexus RX350 four-wheel drive luxury SUV
Other features lauded for saving lives in an accident include side air bags and structural modifications that allow seatbelts to do their job. Over 7,700 saved lives in 2012 have been attributed to these enhanced safety modifications over vehicles from 1985.
Nevertheless, a discrepancy still exists between the safest vehicles- mostly midsize or larger- and the most dangerous vehicles with 100, or more, deaths per million registered vehicle years- mostly lower-priced, small models.
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