DETROIT -- The two-door Chevrolet Blazer from General Motors has the highest driver death rate of any passenger vehicle on U.S. roadways, a research group with links to the insurance industry said Tuesday.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety based that conclusion, and its embarrassing result for GM, on an extensive study of passenger vehicles from the 1999-2002 model years.
The study focused on the rate of driver deaths in various types of crashes, including both single- and multiple-vehicle accidents.
The overall driver death rate, for 199 models studied during the 2000-2003 calendar years, was 87 per million registered vehicles annually, the Insurance Institute said.
Weighing in at more than three times the overall rate, the Insurance Institute said the two-door, two-wheel-drive Blazer -- a mid-sized SUV -- had an average of 308 driver deaths per million.
The Blazer also had the highest rate of driver deaths in rollover accidents at 251 per million.
Highlighting a long-standing trend, the Insurance Institute said "large cars and minivans dominate among vehicle models with very low death rates." Models with the highest rates are "mostly small cars and small and mid-sized SUVs," it said
Bucking the trend, however, the Insurance Institute said the small-sized Toyota RAV4 SUV from Toyota Motor Corp. ranked among vehicles with the lowest average driver death rate.
Vehicles with the lowest overall rate of driver deaths were led by the large Mercedes E-Class luxury sedan from DaimlerChrysler AG, at 10 per million, according to the Insurance Institute.
That was followed by the Toyota 4Runner mid-sized SUV, with an overall driver death rate of 12, the four-door mid-sized Passat from Volkswagen, with 16 deaths, Toyota's Lexus RX 300 mid-sized SUV, at 17, and RAV4 with 18.
In addition to the Blazer, vehicles with the highest driver death rates were led by the Mitsubishi Mirage, a two-door, small-sized car from Mitsubishi Motors Corp., at 209; GM's Pontiac Firebird sports car at 205; the subcompact Kia Rio from Kia Motors Corp. at 200; and the two-wheel-drive Kia Sportage compact SUV at 197.
GM has already halted full-scale production of the two-door Blazer and the vehicle, one of the oldest in the company's lineup, is due to be phased out next month.
Without commenting specifically on the SUV, a company spokesman defended GM's safety record and questioned the usefulness of the Insurance Institute's study.
"GM designs crashworthiness and crash avoidance attributes into all of our vehicles and conducts a battery of tests that replicate an array of potential real-world crashes as part of our commitment to safety before, during and after a crash," GM spokesman Alan Adler said in a statement.
"It is impossible looking at these statistics to know what role driver behavior, such as drunk driving and driving without a safety belt, played in these deaths. We know from decades of work that whether a driver dies in a crash has more to do with behavior than with the vehicle."