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Car Safety Improves: Study Lists Those With Most, And Least, Driver Deaths

A 2011 Subaru Legacy is among the nine vehicles that were found to have a driver fatality rate of zero in a new report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Daniel Acker/Landov hide caption

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Daniel Acker/Landov

A 2011 Subaru Legacy is among the nine vehicles that were found to have a driver fatality rate of zero in a new report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Daniel Acker/Landov

A record nine car models recorded driver death rates of zero, in a periodic study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The group's focus on 2011 models driven through 2012 also found the overall death rate fell by more than a third from its previous study.

The new study found that when looking at 2011 models through the 2012 calendar year, driver deaths per million registered vehicle years fell to 28; just three years earlier, the driver death rate was 48.

Despite the gains, the institute found a wide gap between cars, as three models were found to have driver death rates higher than 100.

We've re-created the IIHS data in charts of the cars that had the most and least deaths during the study, below. If your car (or prospective car) isn't listed here, you can use the organization's fancier chart that lets you sort by vehicle size and market segment.

Lowest Rates of Driver Deaths


Driver deaths per million registered vehicle years: 2011 and equivalent earlier models, in the years 2009-12

Overall driver deaths per million registered vehicle years Multiple-vehicle crashes Single-vehicle crashes Single-vehicle rollovers
Audi A4 4WD luxury car midsize 0 0 0 0
Honda Odyssey minivan very large 0 0 0 0
Kia Sorento 2WD SUV midsize 0 0 0 0
Lexus RX 350 4WD luxury SUV midsize 0 0 0 0
Mercedes-Benz GL-Class 4WD luxury SUV large 0 0 0 0
Subaru Legacy 4WD 4-door car midsize 0 0 0 0
Toyota Highlander hybrid 4WD SUV midsize 0 0 0 0
Toyota Sequoia 4WD SUV large 0 0 0 0
Volvo XC90 4WD luxury SUV midsize 0 0 0 0
Honda Pilot 4WD SUV midsize 2 0 2 0
Mercedes-Benz M-Class 4WD luxury SUV midsize 3 3 0 0
Ford Crown Victoria 4-door car very large 4 4 0 0
GMC Yukon 4WD SUV large 4 0 4 0
Acura TL 2WD luxury car midsize 5 5 0 0
Chevrolet Equinox 2WD SUV midsize 5 3 2 0
Chevrolet Equinox 4WD SUV midsize 5 5 0 0
Ford Expedition 4WD SUV large 5 5 0 0
Ford Flex 2WD SUV midsize 5 0 5 0
Mazda CX-9 4WD SUV midsize 5 0 5 5

The "huge improvement" was due to the spread of crucial safety features such as electronic stability control and design improvements that made cars safer in front-end crashes, the institute says.

"We know from our vehicle ratings program that crash test performance has been getting steadily better," says David Zuby, the institute's executive vice president and chief research officer. "These latest death rates provide new confirmation that real-world outcomes are improving, too."

It seems that the improvements haven't stopped with the 2011 models. As we reported last month, "the number of vehicles winning [the IIHS's] two safety awards jumped from 39 to 71 for the 2015 model year."

The institute says that for its report, a "registered vehicle year" could be either one car that was registered for 12 months or several cars that total up to the same amount of time. Cars that are included must have at least 100,000 registered vehicle years during 2009-12 or at least 20 deaths.

If you're wondering about how the institute calculates the driver death rate, here's an explanation:

Highest Rates of Driver Deaths


Driver deaths per million registered vehicle years: 2011 and equivalent earlier models, in the years 2009-12

Overall driver deaths per million registered vehicle years Multiple-vehicle crashes Single-vehicle crashes Single-vehicle rollovers
Kia Rio 4-door car mini 149 96 54 15
Nissan Versa sedan 4-door car small 130 44 87 51
Hyundai Accent 4-door car mini 120 65 53 16
Chevrolet Aveo 4-door car mini 99 65 31 10
Hyundai Accent 2-door car mini 86 43 48 20
Chevrolet Camaro coupe sports car large 80 19 60 25
Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Crew 4WD pickup large 79 40 36 17
Honda Civic 2-door car small 76 46 29 10
Nissan Versa hatchback 4-door car small 4-door car small 71 37 33 20
Ford Focus 4-door car small 70 55 13 5
Nissan Cube station wagon small 66 38 29 6
Chevrolet HHR station wagon small 61 34 25 9
Chevrolet Suburban 1500 2WD SUV very large 60 31 28 9
Chevrolet Aveo station wagon mini 58 58 0 0
Mercury Grand Marquis 4-door car very large 57 33 25 0
Jeep Patriot 2WD SUV small 57 44 9 3
Mazda 6 4-door car midsize 54 34 17 3
Dodge Nitro 2WD SUV midsize 51 7 50 40
Honda Civic 4-door car small 49 28 21 8

"To increase the exposure and thereby improve the accuracy of the calculations, results are included for the previous three model years if the vehicle wasn't substantially redesigned during that time. These calculations take into account only deaths of drivers, not passengers, since every vehicle that crashes has a driver, but not every vehicle has passengers."