WASHINGTON (Bloomberg) -- Drivers of sport-utility vehicles, who used to be the most likely to die in crashes because of rollovers, are now among those with the highest probability of survival, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said in a report released today.
"The rollover risk in SUVs used to outweigh their size/weight advantage, but that's no longer the case," Anne McCartt, the Arlington, Va.-based group's senior vice president for research, said in the report on driver death rates for passenger vehicles from model years 2005 to 2008.
The report added:
"It's not just weight that gives SUVs an advantage. It's also their height and other factors. When cars and SUVs of similar weight are compared, the SUVs have lower death rates."
The report credited the wide-spread availability of electronic stability control technology, which helps prevent rollovers.
"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," the report said.
Drivers of Nissan Motor Co.'s 350Z sports car and Titan pickup, and General Motors Co.'s Chevrolet Aveo mini and compact Cobalt are more likely to die in accidents than those of other vehicles, the report said.
None of the 26 lowest-rated vehicles had standard electronic stability control, while almost all of the top-rated ones did, the study found. The technology will be required on all new vehicles beginning next year. Suppliers of the systems include Continental AG and Robert Bosch GmbH.
Of the 26 top-rated cars and trucks, all but one had electronic stability control. In 2008, the technology was standard on 65 percent of cars, 96 percent of SUVs and 11 percent of pickups, according to the insurance institute, which last conducted a driver death-rate study in 2007.
Today's results analyze data from 2006 to 2009, using fatality reporting from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Lowest death rates
Vehicles with the lowest death rates include the Audi A6 and the Mercedes Benz E-Class, both luxury cars; Toyota Motor Corp.'s Sienna minivan; Ford Motor Co.'s Edge SUV; Nissan's Armada SUV; and Jaguar Land Rover's Range Rover Sport and Rover LR3 SUVs.
Three vehicles made by Toyota, which was probed last year by U.S. regulators and lawmakers for safety-related defects, rated among the 26 cars and trucks with the lowest driver death rates, including the Lexus GX 470 SUV.
Toyota last year recalled its successor model, the GX 460, to reprogram stability-control software after Consumer Reports magazine rated it a safety risk because of potential rollovers.
Bloomberg contributed to this report.