After a notable decline in driver fatalities during the Great Recession, deaths are back on the rise. However, the increase is rather minuscule compared to every other decade since automobiles became North America’s preferred mode of transportation and the number is projected to go back down in the years to come.
The averaged rate of driver deaths for 2014 models was 30 fatalities per million registered vehicle years, up from the 2011 low of 28. Fatal crashes rose a further 7 percent in 2015. This is can primarily be attributed to people having more reasons to drive when the economy is better, and those added miles translate into additional opportunities for crashes.
More interestingly, however, is which vehicles drivers are losing their lives in most often. As expected, smaller vehicles often are the most dangerous to occupy in the event of an accident but the stats between individual models vary widely.
Let’s begin with which segments performed better. As stated earlier, the smaller a car is, the less likely it will be able to adequately protect you in a crash. On the other end of the spectrum are luxury SUVs. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which analyzed deaths from 2012 to 2015, large all-wheel-drive luxury SUVs possessed the lowest death rate, with just six fatalities per million registered vehicle years — though exceptionally large luxury SUVs were actually involved in more driver fatalities. Luxury sedans echoed this phenomenon by being much safer overall, with slightly more averaged deaths in the largest examples.
Minivans also performed exceedingly well, besting everything but luxury models.
Mainstream SUVs and pickups were also relatively safe, outperforming non-luxury sedans and coupes by a decent margin. In fact, large two-doors tended to be among the most dangerous segments in the study, tallying 80 deaths per million registered years — outdone only by the mini segment’s 87. Sports cars were also involved in more than their fair share of driver fatalities, averaging ratios of 54 for midsize examples and 49 for large.
While the IIHS study doesn’t specifically say so, some of those fatal accidents can likely be attributed to the type of driving they inspire. But the majority of models designated for death aren’t really poised for fast and furious road behavior.
The Hyundai Accent sedan was the car associated with the most driver fatalities. Possessing a ratio of 108 deaths per million registered vehicle years, the Accent was followed by the Kia Rio sedan and Scion tC.
Dipping below the triple-digit mark were the Chevrolet Spark, Nissan Versa, Ford Fiesta four-door, and Kia Soul. Other vehicles to make the risky list were the Nissan Maxima, Nissan Sentra, Volkswagen Golf, Dodge Challenger, Hyundai Genesis coupe, Ford Fusion, and Mustang convertible. Surprisingly, none of the Mustang-related deaths could be attribute a rollover accident. The same cannot be said for Nissan’s 4WD Titan Crew Cab short bed — which had more rollover deaths than any other vehicle on the list.
While the “bad” ranged anywhere between 59 and 108 fatalities per million registered years, there were some vehicles that didn’t have any. The Audi Q7 Quattro, BMW 535i/si/ix, Jeep Cherokee 4WD, Lexus CT 200h, Lexus RX 350, Mazda CX-9, Toyota Tacoma Double Cab 4×4, Volkswagen Tiguan, and all-wheel-drive Mercedes-Benz M-Class all had a ratio of zero.
Unsurprisingly, the remaining single digit death ratio cars were predominately sport utility models, too. The Ford Explorer, Chevy Suburban, Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLK, Toyota Venza, and Nissan Pathfinder, all had a ratio of 7 or under. So did the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Chevrolet Volt, the only other non-trucks near the top of the list.
Still, even the worst vehicles saw marked improvements overall. Both the Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent bettered their 2011 scores. Both of those models have since been redesigned, but the majority of models have upped their crash performance in the last few years. With future safety enhancements already being implemented in new cars, the national average is expected to come back down after 2016. The rest will be up to how operators handle themselves on the roads.
“Vehicles continue to improve, performing better and better in crash tests,” said David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer. “The latest driver death rates show there is a limit to how much these changes can accomplish without other kinds of efforts.”
[Image: Hyundai Motor Company]