The chances of dying in a crash in a late-model vehicle have fallen by more than a third in three years, the latest IIHS calculations of driver death rates show. Among 2011 models, a record nine vehicles have driver death rates of zero. However, the gap between the safest and riskiest models remains wide, and three cars have death rates exceeding 100 per million registered vehicle years.
Improved vehicle designs and safety technology have a lot to do with the continuing decline in fatality risk. In a related study, Institute researchers estimated how much of the decline was due to changes in the vehicle fleet during 1985-2012. They found that vehicle changes — including improved structural designs, the addition of safety features and an evolving mix of vehicle types — were the main source of declining risk from 1993 through 2006. These changes continued to contribute to later declines as well, though other factors such as the weak economy also appear to have played a role.
There were 7,700 fewer driver deaths in 2012 alone than there would have been had vehicles remained the same since 1985.
The latest death rates by make and model confirm the rapid pace of improvement. Among 2011 models, there were 28 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years through the 2012 calendar year, down from 48 for 2008 models through 2009 (see “Death rates by model: SUV drivers are among least likely to be killed,” June 9, 2011). A registered vehicle year is one vehicle registered for one year.
“This is a huge improvement in just three years, even considering the economy’s influence,” says David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer. “We know from our vehicle ratings program that crash test performance has been getting steadily better. These latest death rates provide new confirmation that real-world outcomes are improving, too.”