WASHINGTON (AP) — The chances of dying in a crash in a late-model car or light truck fell by more than a third over three years, and nine car models had zero deaths per million registered vehicles, according to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
The study, which examined fatalities involving 2011 model year vehicles, looked at how many fatalities occurred in a particular model over the course of a year of operation, expressed as a rate per million registered vehicle years. It found there was an average of 28 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years through the 2012 calendar year, down from 48 deaths for 2008 models through 2009.
Improved vehicle designs and safety technology have a lot to do with the reduced risk, the institute said. But a weak economy that led to reductions in driving may also have played a role, it said.
"This is a huge improvement in just three years, even considering the economy's influence," says David Zuby, the institute's executive vice president and chief research officer. "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."
But 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 also were mostly lower-priced, small cars, while the safest models were all mid-sized or large vehicles.
The nine models with zero deaths were: Audi A4 four-wheel drive, a midsized luxury car; Honda Odyssey, a minivan; Kia Sorento two-wheel drive, a mid-sized SUV; the Lexus RX 350 four-wheel drive, a midsized luxury SUV; Mercedes-Benz GL-Class four-wheel drive, a large luxury SUV; Subaru Legacy four-wheel drive, a 4-door midsized car; Toyota Highlander hybrid, a four-wheel drive midsized SUV; Toyota Sequoia, a four-wheel drive large SUV, and Volvo XC90, a four-wheel drive luxury midsized SUV.
The vehicles with the highest death rates were the Kia Rio, a 4-door mini car, 149 deaths per million registered vehicles; Nissan Versa, a small 4-door sedan, 130 deaths, and Hyundai Accent, a 4-door mini car, 120 deaths.
The institute has published death rates by make and model periodically since 1989, at first for cars only and later for all passenger vehicles. The rates include only driver deaths because the presence of passengers is unknown.
Although the latest numbers reflect 2011 models, the study included data from earlier-model year vehicles as far back as 2008 if the vehicles weren't substantially redesigned before 2011. Including older, equivalent vehicles increases the exposure and thus the accuracy of the results, the institute said. To be included, a vehicle must have had at least 100,000 registered vehicle years of exposure during 2009-12, or at least 20 deaths.