IIHS logoNine 2011 model year vehicles had zero driver deaths, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), as Kelly Pieskot reports for Motor Trend. This is a big improvement over eight years ago, Pieskot notes, as at that time no vehicle had a driver death rate of zero.

Pieskot goes on to write:

It shows that once far-fetched plans from governments and automakers to completely eliminate traffic deaths in the future may have potential. New York City recently created its Vision Zero goal, similar to the one Sweden created in 1997, envisioning the end of traffic deaths by 2024. A few years back, Volvo declared it would work to eliminate all deaths and injuries in its vehicles by 2020. But despite the gains, a huge gap remains between the safest cars on the road and most dangerous ones.

The cars with zero driver deaths, according to IIHS, for the model year 2011, include the following, listed in alphabetical order:

  • Audi A4 4WD (midsize luxury car)
  • Honda Odyssey (very large minivan)
  • Kia Sorento 2WD (midsize SUV)
  • Lexus RX 350 4WD (midsize luxury SUV)
  • Mercedes-Benz GL-Class 4W (large luxury SUV)
  • Subaru Legacy 4WD (midsize 4-door car)
  • Toyota Highlander hybrid 4WD (midsize SUV)
  • Toyota Sequoia 4 WD (large SUV)
  • Volvo XC90 4 WD (midsize luxury SUV)

The nine model year 2011 cars with the highest rates of driver deaths, according to IIHS, are:

  • Kia Rio (4-door car, mini) 149 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years
  • Nissan Versa Sedan (small 4-door car) 130 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years
  • Hyundai Accent (mini 4-door car) 120 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years
  • Chevrolet Aveo (mini 4-door car) 99 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years
  • Hyundai Accent (mini 2-door car) 86 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years
  • Chevrolet Camaro coupe (large sports car) 80 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years
  • Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Crew 4WD (large pickup) 79 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years
  • Honda Civic (small 2-door car) 76 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years
  • Nissan Versa hatchback (small 4-door car) 71 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years

IIHS makes the point that improved car design has saved lives. There were 7,700 fewer driver deaths in 2012 alone than there would have been had vehicles remained the same since 1985, IIHS writes in its status report. In just the last three years, there has been a huge improvement in vehicle safety, says David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer, in the status report. Although the IIHS numbers reflect 2011 vehicle year models, the report includes data from earlier year models back as far as 2008, as long as those vehicles were not substantially redesigned before 2011, IIHS writes.

In an article for Torque, Dennis Flieri asks if the IIHS study is the best way to compare vehicles for their safety, writing:

While the study is interesting, it is not a sure fire way to view these vehicles as safer than others. It could be that the people who buy these vehicles tend to be safer drivers than others. The cars that show the highest rates of driver deaths which are the Kia Rio 4-door car mini (149 driver deaths), Nissan Versa sedan-4-door car small (130) and Hyundai Accent (120) are smaller cars and are more likely to be purchased by a younger demographic.

Flieri suggests that a better way of determining vehicle safety is via the IIHS Top Safety Pick Awards, in which the organization rates vehicles according to their performance in crash tests. As this blog reported, IIHS awarded its Top Safety Pick Plus Awards for 2015 model cars to:

  • Subaru Outback
  • Lexus CT 200h
  • Toyota Camry
  • Acura RLX
  • Toyota Highlander
  • Mazda3
  • Toyota Prius V
  • Hyundai Genesis
  • Subaru Impreza
  • Infiniti Q70
  • Subaru XV Crosstrek
  • Lexus RC
  • Acura MDX
  • Toyota Prius
  • Acura TLX
  • Mercedes-Benz E-Class
  • Lexus NX
  • Audi A3
  • Volvo S80
  • Mercedes-Benz M-Class
  • BMW 2 series
  • Volvo XC60
  • Chrysler 200
  • Infiniti Q50
  • Mazda6
  • Volvo S60
  • Honda CR-V
  • Subaru Legacy
  • Volvo V60
  • Mazda CX-5
  • Toyota Sienna
  • Mitsubishi Outlander
  • Subaru Forester

When you compare the Top Safety Pick Plus vehicles with the ones that had zero driver deaths in the new IIHS study, you find that the cars that appear in both lists include Toyota Highlander and Subaru Legacy. But this is not an apples-to-apples comparison, as the driver-deaths study looked at 2011 cars, and the Top Safety Picks Plus list rates 2015 models. To get a more accurate comparison, you would need to look at the IIHS Top Safety Picks list for 2011 models. (Note that IIHS did not add Plus ratings until more recently.) Fliers writes that zero driver deaths might be a better indicator of what type of driver buys which vehicles. Drivers who buy the zero-driver-death vehicles tend to be safer drivers, he writes, and take better care of their vehicles.

IIHS writes that although improved safety features on vehicles is great news, there have been missed opportunities for reducing traffic fatalities by other means. The Institute names several such ways to reduce fatal car accidents, including lower speed limits, stricter safety-belt laws, and wider use of law enforcement. However, it may be that the biggest reason for a reduction in driver deaths overall since 2006 was the weak economy, IIHS writes. “This means that fatality rates could be expected to rise again when the economy improves unless better traffic safety policies are put in place,” IIHS writes.

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