U.S. driver death rates fall more than a third in 3 years, IIHS says
Report: 9 vehicles have zero driver deaths
After the year of the recall, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shared some positive news about vehicle safety: The likelihood of driver deaths in late-model vehicles has fallen more than a third in the U.S. in three years, IIHS said in a status report today.
“This is a huge improvement in just three years, even considering the economy’s influence,” David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer, said in the report.
The data comes out after two major safety crises enveloped the U.S. auto industry in 2014 -- faulty GM ignition-switches and potentially lethal Takata airbag inflators. The increased emphasis on safety prompted the industry to recall an all-time record 60.5 million U.S. vehicles last year, nearly twice the previous record, Bloomberg reported.
“We know from our vehicle ratings program that crash test performance has been getting steadily better," Zuby said. "These latest death rates provide new confirmation that real-world outcomes are improving, too.”
But death rates among SUVs and smaller-vehicle segments vary, with many SUVs posting the fewest deaths and smaller cars posting the most.
“With some exceptions, death rates tend to go down as size goes up,” the report said.
IIHS compiled death rates per vehicle by taking fatality counts from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System and registration data from R.L. Polk & Co.
Nine vehicles, 2011 model year or equivalent earlier models, had driver death rates of zero from 2009 to 2012: the Audi A4 4WD, Honda Odyssey, Kia Sorento 2WD, Lexus RX 350 4WD, Mercedes-Benz GL-class 4WD, Subaru Legacy 4WD, Toyota Highlander hybrid 4WD, Toyota Sequoia 4WD and Volvo XC90 4WD.
“The list of models with the lowest death rates illustrates just how much vehicles have improved. Eight years ago, there were no models with driver death rates of zero,” the report said.
Two-thirds of the zero-death vehicles are SUVs. Ten years ago, SUVs had some of the highest rates because they could easily roll over, the report said. With electronic stability control, the risk of rollover crashes has decreased. The rollover death rate of five 2011 or earlier equivalent models per a million registered vehicles from 2009 to 2012 is less than a quarter of what it was for 2004 models, the report said.
But the gap between models with the lowest number of driver deaths and the models with the highest is wide: the Kia Rio had the most driver deaths from 2009 to 2012, with 149 fatalities per million registered 2011 and equivalent models. The Nissan Versa sedan, with 130 deaths, and the Hyundai Accent, with 120 deaths, followed.
Eliminating traffic deaths?
“The complete elimination of traffic deaths is still many decades away, and, along with vehicle improvements, getting there will require changes in road design and public policy that can help protect all road users,” Zuby said in the report. “Still, the rise in the number of vehicles with zero driver deaths shows what’s possible.”
Improved vehicle designs, safety technology and a weak economy contributed to the fatality risk decline, the report said.
Vehicle design and safety advancements played such a crucial role that in 2012, there were 7,700 fewer driver deaths than there would have been if vehicles had remained unchanged since 1985, the report said.
Improvements in vehicle design have been a factor in declining fatality risk since 2006, the report said. Increased seat belt usage and other improvements in driver behavior also may have helped, but the most significant factor was the weak economy.
During a weak economy, there are fewer people driving.
If people are unemployed, “they’re not taking optional trips that tend to be more risky, like tailgating at the game on the weekend,” said Russ Rader, IIHS senior vice president of communications.
When the economy improves, fatality rates could increase unless better traffic safety policies are introduced, the report said.
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