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Small Cars Continue To Produce The Highest Accident Death Rates

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Low fuel prices continue to drive America’s obsession with large trucks and SUVs, which has even led to recent shortages of more popular models and trims on dealer lots. At the same time, four-wheel and all-wheel drive vehicles – typically CUVs/SUVs and trucks – continue to surge in popularity, representing over 50 percent of total vehicle sales in the U.S. so far this year. But there’s just one problem: the surge in larger, heavier vehicles on the road makes driving small cars rather unsafe.

According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), small cars accounted for 15 of the 20 models with the highest death rates for the 2017 model year, the most recent figures calculated by the non-profit organization. Meanwhile, luxury SUVs accounted for nearly half of the 20 models with the lowest death rates. Very large SUVs have the lowest overall death rates of any vehicle category with 15 fatalities per million registered vehicle years, while minicars have the highest at 82.

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“Smaller vehicles offer less protection for the driver in crashes, and their lighter mass means that they take the brunt of collisions with larger vehicles,” said Joe Nolan, IIHS senior vice president of vehicle research.

Unfortunately, the worst performer among all 2017 models was the 2017 Ford Fiesta, which earned a rating of “marginal” in the IIHS driver-side small overlap crash test and presented the highest death rate of 141 fatalities.

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Meanwhile, nine of the 20 models with the lowest death rates were luxury SUVs, two were mid-size luxury cars, and four were minivans or very large SUVs. The overall death rates for luxury vehicles are also substantially lower than the averages for non-luxury vehicles of the same size. This interesting disparity can be explained by the fact that luxury vehicles typically come with advanced safety features that aren’t generally available on less expensive models.

Other Blue Oval vehicles with the highest rate of driver deaths include the Ford Mustang, with 81 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years, and the Ford Focus, at 68. Incidentally, both the aforementioned Fiesta and Focus have been discontinued in the U.S. market.

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Meanwhile, total traffic fatalities have increased steadily since 2011, hitting 28 per million registered vehicles that year, followed by 30 in 2014 and 36 in 2017. IIHS calculates driver death rates approximately every three years, using data from the federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System and IHS Markit.

This information isn’t terribly surprising, but it is concerning for those who own and drive small cars. Automakers have worked overtime to improve safety in recent years, and that technology is trickling down to less-expensive models, however. So with any luck, those recent improvements will lead to a decrease in driver deaths moving forward, no matter what size vehicle they’re driving.

We’ll have more on this and other auto industry trends as they develop, so be sure to subscribe to Ford Authority for non-stop Ford news coverage.

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Written by Brett Foote

Brett's lost track of all the Fords he's owned over the years and how much he's spent modifying them, but his current money pits include an S550 Mustang and 13th gen F-150.

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6 Comments

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    • That is very true. Many drivers assume incorrectly that they are “indestructible” in their modern cars due to seat belts, air bags, crush zones, and other safety features added, but they drive wrong, disobeying traffic laws, and speeding. I drove small cars (one was a 1968 Austin America) in the past but I now drive a sedan (Ford Fusion) and I don’t speed or even drive over 55 MPH. If we all drove slower, and carefully, there may be no more deaths. It is much better to arrive late than never!

  1. Quite shocking for those even moderately familiar with basic physics? No, it not the cars that produce higher accident/death rates, at least for now…it’s the people driving them that produce the high accident and correspondingly higher death rates. So I guess the solution is to continue to make larger and larger vehicles? Soon, school bus sized vehicles, heck, maybe even armored SUV’s could be next on the horizon!

  2. I wish that IIHS detailed the report by vehicle brand instead of size. This way we know which brand is more prone to deaths, and reduce them by avoid buying that brand.

    • I wish people were taught better driving skills and took driving more seriously so the type or brand of vehicle played less of a role in ultimate driver safety. There are countries who routinely test drivers at various points in their lives, and these tests are far more stringent than the ones we administer. If the driver doesn’t pass at any point…they don’t drive. Unfortunately, this rigid standard would never past muster here in the states.

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