In the realm of automobiles, the spotlight often falls on the safest cars or those electric vehicles (EVs) boasting the most impressive range. However, a more ominous aspect lurks in the shadows, embodied in the stark statistics of automotive fatalities. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) periodically uncovers these grim figures, shedding light on the vehicles carrying the most significant risk of fatalities.
A Closer Look at the IIHS Statistics
The IIHS, a respected authority in the domain, has been consistently computing driver death rates since 1989, approximately every three years. Their recent study marks the first instance where they have not only charted the worst performers but also calculated the best in terms of the number of fatalities. This unique perspective has revealed some startling insights into the vehicles that pose the greatest danger on the roads.
Muscular Threat: High Horsepower Vehicles
A shocking revelation from the study is the high ranking of muscle cars, renowned for their high horsepower and swanky image, among the most fatal vehicles. Six out of the 21 used vehicles with the highest driver death rates for the 2020 model year were variants of popular muscle cars, including the Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, Dodge Charger, and the Ford Mustang.
David Harkey, the President of IIHS, highlights the role that a vehicle’s image and marketing can play in contributing to the risk of crashes. The allure of muscle cars, with their historical association with hot rods and aggressive marketing, could encourage more reckless driving behavior, resulting in a higher incidence of crashes.
Safety Concerns with Small Vehicles
The list of vehicles with the highest driver death rates also includes small cars or microcars, which have traditionally been seen as less safe due to their size. Harkey explains that smaller vehicles often have higher driver death rates because they offer less protection, particularly in crashes involving larger, heavier SUVs and pickups. It also then makes sense that smaller hatchbacks will be the unlikeliest cars to cause deaths to other drivers.
The Mitsubishi Mirage variants topped the list of vehicles with the highest driver death rates, while the BMW X3, Lexus ES 350, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class claimed the positions of the safest vehicles with the lowest death rates.
Death Rates and Safety Ratings: Two Sides of the Same Coin
Driver death rates serve as a significant counterpart to the Institute’s safety ratings as they capture different facets of risk. The Institute’s front crash tests, for instance, involve propelling vehicles into a stationary barrier at 40 mph. The kinetic energy involved in the crash is determined by the vehicle’s own weight, thus making the safety ratings useful for comparing vehicles in the same size category but not for contrasting small and large cars or cars and SUVs.
Conversely, driver death rates offer a more universal comparison across vehicle classes. However, these rates reflect not just the properties of the vehicles but also include factors like driver age and gender. For instance, men are typically involved in more crashes than women, and older drivers are more likely to be killed in a crash than younger ones.
10 Cars with the Highest Driver-Related Deaths
- Mitsubishi Mirage G4
- Mitsubishi Mirage Hatchback
- Dodge Challenger
- Hyundai Accent
- Chevrolet Spark
- Kia Rio
- Dodge Charger
- Chevrolet Camaro
- Nissan Altima
- Kia Forte
10 Cars with the Lowest Driver-Related Deaths
- BMW X3
- Lexus ES350
- Mercedes Benz E-Class
- Nissan Pathfinder
- Audi Q5
- Toyota CH-R
- Nissan Murano
- Volvo XC90
- GMC Canyon Crew-Cab
- Lexus RX350
10 Cars that Cause the Most Other Driver-Related Deaths
- Ram 3500 Crew-Cab
- Dodge Charger HEMI
- Ford F-350 Crew-Cab
- Ram 2500 Mega-Cab
- Kia Optima
- Kia Rio
- Ram 2500 Crew-Cab
- Ford F-250 Crew-Cab
- Dodge Charger
- Ram 1500 Crew-Cab
10 Cars that Cause the Least Other Driver-Related Deaths
- Buick Encore
- Mercedes Benz E-Class
- Acura MDX
- Subaru Ascent
- Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
- Volvo XC60
- Porsche Macan
- Chevrolet Bolt
- Chevrolet Trax
- Honda HR-V
The Impact of Vehicle Features and Marketing on Safety
The safety features and marketing of a vehicle can significantly influence its safety record. For example, luxury vehicles, which often come equipped with advanced safety features like crash avoidance systems, have lower driver and other-driver death rates. On the other hand, muscle cars that are marketed for their speed and power, and often lack these safety features, rank among the worst performers.
The Dodge Charger HEMI, for instance, is marketed for its “ground-shaking” power and “racing-inspired” high-performance brakes, while the Chevrolet Camaro promises buyers the ability to “dominate on the daily” with an “extreme track performance package.”
The Bigger Picture and General Trends
Taking a broader perspective reveals some more general trends. The average driver death rate for all 2020 models and equivalent models saw a rise to 38 deaths per million registered vehicle years, up from 36 for the 2017 models. This is a marked increase from a low of 28 for the 2011 models.
Not surprisingly, small cars recorded the highest driver death rates, averaging 153 deaths per million registered vehicles. In contrast, very large luxury cars had the lowest rates, averaging only 4 deaths. Large pickups had the highest other-driver death rates, averaging 121 deaths, while it is interesting to note that small sports cars had the fewest other-driver deaths, averaging only 11 per million registered vehicles.
The statistics presented by IIHS serve as a stark reminder of the significant differences in the levels of protection that various models provide. While it’s true that newer vehicles are generally safer than older models, it’s also clear that factors such as the type of vehicle, its safety features, and even its image and marketing can significantly impact the risk of a fatal crash. As consumers, it’s crucial to be aware of these factors when choosing a vehicle, to ensure not just our own safety, but also the safety of others on the road.