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Car safety report: Bigger is better

Pound for pound, SUVs are the safest cars on the road.

By MSN Money Partner Jun 13, 2011 10:55AM

This post comes from Matt Brownell at partner site MainStreet.


Remember when SUVs drew consumer focus over rollover worries? Well, a new study says that SUVs are safer than ever and that tiny cars are the most likely to result in a fatality.


That's one of the lessons from the latest edition of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Status Report (.pdf file), which tracks car crash and mortality statistics. The good news is that car crash deaths are down overall: Between 2006 and 2009, the death rate for drivers of 2005-2008 models was just 48 people per million registered vehicle years (defined as a vehicle registered for a year, or two vehicles registered for six months). Post continues after video.

According to the report, the death rate for 2001-2004 models was 79, so this represents a significant improvement over just five years.


But the data also show that your chance of dying in a car accident goes up as your car gets smaller. The report lists death rates by style and size, comparing the prevalence of fatal accidents in car types like a mid-size four-door or a mini station wagon, for instance.


Here are the top 10 with the highest likelihood of driver death, as measured in deaths per million registered vehicle years:

  • Mini sports car: 83.
  • Mini four-door: 82.
  • Mid-size sports car: 80.
  • Small four-door: 72.
  • Mini two-door: 70.
  • Small two-door: 62 (tie).
  • Small two-wheel drive: 62 (tie).
  • Mini station wagon: 61.
  • Small station wagon: 59.
  • Mid-size two-door: 58.

Not a single large car cracked the top 10, and the only mid-size style in the top five was the sports car. Even SUVs, which used to be considered dangerous -- despite their size -- due to the risk of rollover, didn't crack the top 10. The riskiest SUVs were small two-wheel drive models, but even those had just 41 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years. Meanwhile, large four-wheel drive SUVs were the safest cars on the road, resulting in just 15 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years.


And it's not just size that matters: Pound-for-pound, SUVs are the safest cars on the road.


The IIHS takes note of this phenomenon, observing that advancing technology has greatly lessened the risk of rolling over in an SUV.


"The change is due largely to the widespread availability of electronic stability control (ESC), which helps prevent rollovers," the report says. "With the propensity to roll over reduced, SUVs are on balance safer than cars because their bigger size and weight provide greater protection in a crash."


More on MainStreet and MSN Money:

Jun 13, 2011 4:43PM

I'm a big guy , but I traded in my full size pick up for a Mini Cooper a few years back.

I love the small car agility and the low cost fill-ups. That said -- I do not drive around with the "Pius" mentality & go 55 in the fast lane and irritate all the SUV drivers. To each his own on car of choice.

Jun 13, 2011 4:25PM

I think saving gas is good but I believe people should be able to drive what they want and if a tiny car is your cup of tea then so be it but all those that bash large cars or trucks should get a life not everyone wants to drive a prius or volt or even worse a smart car, that is a coffin on wheels.

Jun 13, 2011 5:42PM
Uh, duh.  The fundamental laws of physics still apply.
Jun 13, 2011 6:58PM

Far safer??


What is the difference, in practical terms,  between 0.0048% and .00120%, other than numerically they happen to be a "threefold increase".


Much like the odds of death in a plane due to a maintenance error versus a terrorist attack, these are irrelevant numbers in daily life.

Jun 13, 2011 2:48PM
DUH!  Tell us something else we didn't already know or, at the very least, believe.  Now if they could just make large SUV's that get 50MPG, be able to tow a boat, RV, and horse trailer all at the same time, while carrying 20 passengers with their luggage, and all for less than $20K, it would make everyone happy.  Until then the great debate will continue--What's more important? Safety or environmental responsibility?
Jun 13, 2011 1:09PM
How about that we would all be safer if the SUVs were off the road. Most of them are unnecessary and the people that drive them are usually idots.  They don't understand the they can't stop in snow, but they drive fast because they they will go. WE can't see around them, over them or thru them, creating a hazard for everyone else.  Their size and height make them very dangerous for everyone around them. With their rotten gas mileage they pollute more than their share. 
Jun 13, 2011 12:48PM

This is complete trash. Yes SUV are RATED as the safest cars on the road, but the real danger lies in the idiots that are too nervous and scared to drive them right or at the correct speed. Someone should check the effects of nervs and fear on driving and compare it to that of alcohol.

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