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Study: SUV drivers among least likely to die in a crash

Consumer Reports News: June 09, 2011 04:58 PM

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When SUVs started to gain in popularity in the 1980s, they carried a stigma for being unsafe because they were prone to rollovers in a crash due to their higher center of gravity and their death rates were much higher than cars. Now, that has changed and a new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) finds that people driving modern-designed SUVs today are among the least likely to die in a crash and much of that is credited to the availability of electronic stability control (ESC).

In 2002, ESC was standard on 28 percent of cars and 10 percent of SUVs. In 2008, that number jumped to 65 percent of cars and 96 percent of SUVs. For the 2012 model year, ESC is mandated by the government to be standard on all new passenger vehicles. Previously, the increased rollover risk for SUVs offset the size and weight protection they afforded drivers and passengers in a crash. The widespread availability of ESC has changed that dynamic, and now when comparing cars and SUVs of similar weight, SUVs have lower death rates.

The Institute found that the driver death rate from 2006-2009 for the 2005-2008 model years was 48 per million registered vehicles. That is a marked decrease from 79 per million for 2001-2004 models in the years 2002 to 2005.

The study released today finds modern minivans are the safest vehicles, with a driver death rate of 25, followed by SUVs with a rate of 28. Pickup trucks average 52 driver deaths and cars average 56. However, smaller cars fare much worse, with four-door minicars having a rate of 82. Four years ago, the SUV rate was 65 deaths, a drop of 57 percent in four years. For individual models, rates range from zero for seven vehicles up to 143 for the Nissan 350Z sports car, the highest-risk vehicle listed.

With this new data, IIHS has now changed its position on SUVs and teenagers. According to a New York Times report, it is no longer telling parents to not buy SUVs for their teenagers because of their rollover risk.

For more on which vehicles are safest in a crash, see below for the models with the lowest and highest death rates.

Lowest death rate
Model Overall rate
Audi A6 4WD 0
Mercedes-Benz E-Class 4WD 0
Toyota Sienna 0
Ford Edge 0
Nissan Armada 0
Land Rover Range Rover Sport 0
Land Rover LR3 0
Honda CR-V 7
Jeep Grand Cherokee 11
Acura MDX 11
Highest death rate
Model Overall rate
Nissan 350Z 143
Nissan Titan crew cab 126
Chevrolet Aveo 119
Chevrolet Cobalt 117
Nissan Titan extended cab 111
Kia Spectra 102
Chevrolet Malibu Classic 99
Hyundai Tiburon 96
Nissan Versa 96
Chevrolet Colorado extended cab 93

For more on vehicle safety, see our guide to car safety.

Liza Barth

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