ONE OF NINE SAFE CARS: Subaru's Legacy is one of nine cars which scored a "zero deaths per million cars" rating in a US study. Image: Subaru
WASHINGTON — The chances of dying in a crash in a late-model car or light truck in the US fell by more than a third over three years and nine car models had zero deaths per million registered vehicles.
The data comes from a study by America’s Insurance Institute for Highway Safety which shows that improved vehicle design and safety technology have a lot to do with reduced death risk, compared to a “a weak US economy that led to less driving”.
The study, which examined deaths involving 2011 model-year vehicles, looked at how many drivers died while driving a particular model for a year, expressed as a rate per million registered vehicle years. It found an average of 28 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years through the 2012 calendar year, down from 48 for 2008 models through 2009.
When the institute looked at the issue eight years earlier there were no models with driver death rates of zero.
David Zuby, the institute's chief research officer, called it "a huge improvement”, even considering the effect of a weak economy.
Zuby said: "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."
Among the improvements credited for declining death rates is the widespread adoption of electronic stability control, which has dramatically lessened the risk of rollover crashes. SUV’s had some of the highest rates a decade earlier due to their propensity to roll.
The rollover death rate of five per million registered vehicle years for 2011 models is less than a quarter of what it was for 2004 models; six of the nine vehicles with zero deaths were SUVs.
Russ Rader, an institute spokesman, said: “Side air bags and structural changes to vehicles are also helping.. Automakers are engineering vehicles with stronger cabins that hold up better in front, side and rollover crashes, allowing the seat belts and air bags to do their job well.”
Improved technologies were responsible for preventing the deaths of 7700 drivers in 2012 when compared to how cars were made in 1985, the institute said.
However, the gap between safest and riskiest models remains wide. Three 2011 models had rates exceeding 100 deaths per million registered vehicle years. The riskiest models were mostly budget small cars; the safest all mid-sized or large vehicles.
The nine models with zero deaths were:
Audi A4 all-wheel drive, a midsized luxury car; Honda Odyssey, a minivan; Kia Sorento two-wheel drive, a mid-sized SUV; Lexus RX 350 all-wheel drive, a midsized luxury SUV; Mercedes-Benz GL-Class all-wheel drive, a large luxury SUV; Subaru Legacy all-wheel drive, a four-door midsized car; Toyota Highlander hybrid, a four-wheel drive midsized SUV; Toyota Sequoia, a four-wheel drive large SUV; Volvo XC90, a four-wheel drive luxury midsized SUV.
While most were luxury models two - the Subaru Legacy and the Kia Sorento - are moderately priced.
The vehicles with the highest death rates were the Kia Rio, a four-door mini car, (149 deaths/million registered vehicles) Nissan Versa, a small four-door sedan, (130) and the Hyundai Accent, a four-door mini car (120).