Does Car Size Determine Safety on the Road?

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Today’s vehicles are safer than ever thanks to the wide range of advanced safety features that are equipped in new vehicles. From blind spot detection and lane departure warnings to emergency brake assist and rollover prevention technology, these safety features can help prevent accidents from happening, or make the collision less severe. From luxury SUVs to more affordable compact models, manufacturers have been trying to offer a wide range of safe motor vehicle options to consumers. However, according to a comprehensive study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which analyzes the death rates of drivers, and the size and model of the vehicle they were driving when they were killed, small vehicles are associated with higher death rates compared to larger vehicles, such as SUVs.

How Did the IIHS Compile Data?

The IIHS study reviewed 147,324 driver fatalities involving a range of vehicle models and categories. Although existing crash test data compares vehicles within a specific class, the results from the IIHS study offer safety-conscious consumers additional information to consider. Death rates over time provide important information about how smaller cars, SUVs, and trucks in a variety of sizes perform against each other.

The IIHS collected data from 2015 to 2018 for vehicles from the 2017 model year, as well as some earlier models with the same designs and features. The death rates included only driver deaths, since not every vehicle on the road had passengers, or the same number of passengers. Death rates were adjusted for driver age and gender; however, they did not factor in the number of miles driven each day, or the types of roadways motorists used, all of which could influence fatality rates.

Consumers can use this information when purchasing a vehicle. Large, luxury SUVs had the lowest death rates, whereas small cars had a much higher fatality rate. This is not necessarily surprising, since smaller vehicles are much lighter and absorb the impact in collisions involving larger vehicles. Larger, luxury vehicles also came equipped with a range of advanced safety features that are not usually installed on smaller, less expensive vehicles.

What are the Death Rates by Car Size?

Small cars generally have higher death rates, but there are other factors that need to be considered, including the speed at which the driver was traveling when the accident occurred, and the number of miles Americans drive each day. When considering miles driven per vehicle class, smaller cars had the most miles driven compared to all other classes, whereas trucks, SUVs, luxury cars, and sports cars had fewer miles driven. This suggests that the higher death rate involving smaller cars is due to the higher number of miles driven.

Two cars that seemingly defied the data include the Volkswagen Golf and the Nissan Leaf. Despite their small size, the Golf and the Leaf had death rates of only zero and five per million registered vehicle years, respectively. This is particularly surprising for the Volkswagen Golf, since it was one of the worst performing vehicles of 2014, with a fatality rate of 63 deaths per million registered vehicle years. The IIHS reports that the Leaf’s low death rate is likely linked more to how the small electric vehicle is driven. According to the study, Leaf owners drive the vehicle within an hour of their home. According to the IIHS, the improved safety rating for both vehicles is due to the improved safety features that the cars offer, despite their size.

Which Vehicles had the Lowest Death Rates?

The following are the top 10 vehicles with the lowest death rates, in reverse order:

  • Acura RDX 2WD: This SUV has a range of safety features, such as collision warning and automatic emergency braking, as well as optional blind spot warning.
  • Subaru Outback: This wagon is considered a smart alternative to an SUV.
  • Lexus GX 460 4WD: This SUV comes with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and lane departure warning.
  • Volkswagen Golf: This is the outlier of the list, given its small size. The safety rating for the Golf improved significantly from the previous model, which had a death rate similar to that of other small cars. Forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning, and rear cross-traffic warning all come standard.
  • Porsche Cayenne 4WD: This luxury SUV offers automatic emergency braking and optional blind spot warning, lane keeping assistance, and a surround-view camera system.
  • Mercedes-Benz C-Class Sedan 4WD: This luxury sedan comes with automatic emergency braking and optional partially automated highway steering.
  • Lexus NX 200t 4WD: Safety features that come standard include automatic emergency braking and lane departure warning. Blind spot warning is optional.
  • Land Rover Range Rover Evoque 4WD: The high safety rating is due to forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and lane keeping assistance that comes standard, as well as other advanced features.
  • Infiniti QX60 2WD: This luxury SUV comes with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and blind spot warning.
  • GMC Yukon XL 1500 4WD: This is the largest SUV in the top 10. Automatic emergency braking is standard on all versions.

Which Vehicles had the Highest Death Rates?

The following are the top 10 vehicles that are considered the most dangerous based on their high death rate, in reverse order:

  • Ford Mustang GT Coupe (2015-2018): The safety cage received marginal ratings, which can make the vehicle less effective in a serious collision.
  • Kia Rio (2015-2018): This four-door subcompact made some improvement since last year, but the car’s small size makes it an unsafe choice compared to larger vehicles.
  • Nissan Versa (2015-2019): This sedan improved certain safety features since the list was last updated, but the poor safety rating is due to a small overlap on the front driver’s side in a crash.
  • Kia Forte (2015-2018): The poor rating was likely due to headlight issues and child seat anchors that were too deep into the seat.
  • Hyundai Elantra (2011-2016): Although safety improvements have been made in its 2019 model, owners of older models of the Elantra should be aware of safety issues that resulted in crash deaths.
  • Fiat 500 (2012-2019): Modifications were made to the seat structure that made the vehicle safer in frontal crashes. However, it received a poor rating for door hinges that tear apart and cause the driver to be ejected from the vehicle.
  • Nissan Versa Note (2016-2019): This station wagon is responsible for a high number of crash fatalities.
  • Chevrolet Sonic (2012-2020): This vehicle has always had structure and safety concerns, as well as a newly discovered issue with a small overlap of the driver side in a crash.
  • Hyundai Accent (2012-2017): This vehicle has a poorly rated structure and safety cage that can cause injuries to the hip, legs, and feet in an accident. In addition, the airbag provided the crash test dummy with little protection in a crash test.
  • Ford Fiesta (2014-2019): This model tops the list, owing to a weakness in front overlap crash tests.

Baltimore Car Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Seek Justice for Victims of All Types of Car Accidents

If you or someone you know was seriously injured in a car accident, contact the Baltimore car accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton at your earliest convenience. Car accidents can occur when you least expect it, regardless of the size of the vehicles involved. Our dedicated and experienced legal team will thoroughly review the details of your case and determine who is responsible for causing the accident. We will walk you through every step of the claims process and secure the maximum financial compensation you deserve. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

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