Fatality Ratings - Driver Death Rates by Vehicle Make & Model
driver died in the crash. So did many other passenger vehicle
drivers during 2000-03, but the risk of death isn’t
the same in one vehicle compared with another. Car, minivan,
SUV, and pickup truck models vary widely in the likelihood
of dying in a crash. The average driver death rate in 1999-2002
passenger vehicle models during 2000-03 was 87 per million
registered vehicle years. But the death rates in some models
were two or even three times as high, while the rates in
other vehicles were much lower.
Large cars and minivans dominate
among vehicle models with very low death rates. The models
with the highest rates are mostly small cars and small and
midsize SUVs, many of which also have high rates of death
in single vehicle rollover crashes. The model with the highest
death rate of all — the two-door, two wheel-drive
Chevrolet Blazer with 308 driver deaths per million registered
years — also had the highest rollover death rate (251
“Many of these general patterns
of death rates have been consistent since the Institute
began computing the rates by vehicle make and model in the
late 1980s,” says Institute chief operating officer
Adrian Lund. “Since then there also has been a pattern
of improvement. In the late 1980s the overall driver death
rate was higher than 100. The latest overall rate was 87.”
body style, size, and fatality risk: Important characteristics
of vehicles that influence their driver death rates are
type, body style, size, and weight. Within virtually every
group of vehicles, the smaller and lighter models have the
Among cars, for example, the smallest
two door models had the highest death rate at 190 per million
vehicle years. This rate is more than twice as high as the
average for all vehicles included in the study.
Midsize sports cars also had a high
rate at 133 driver deaths per million vehicle years. This
was higher than for either small or mini sports cars, so
this type of vehicle was an exception to the general rule
that bigger means lower death rates.
The vehicle group with the lowest
driver death rate was large luxury cars with 37 deaths per
million vehicle years. The next lowest rate was in large
minivans and station wagons with 42 deaths per million.
Vehicle weight and the risk of death: Because
vehicle size and weight are so closely related, it shouldn’t
be surprising that their effects on driver death rates are
similar. In each group (cars, SUVs, pickups) the heavier
vehicles, like bigger ones, generally had lower death rates.
The rate in the lightest SUVs, for example, was more than
twice as high as in the heaviest SUVs.
“Pound for pound across the
vehicle types, cars almost always have lower death rates
than either pickups or SUVs. This generally is because the
SUVs and pickups have much higher rates of death in single-vehicle
rollover crashes,” Lund explains.
In some weight groups, the death
rates in cars were dramatically lower. For example, the
rate in cars weighing 3,501 to 4,000 pounds was about half
of the rates in pickups or SUVs of similar weight. The exception
was light pickups, which had relatively low rates compared
with cars or SUVs weighing about the same. “There’s
no ready explanation for this exception,” Lund says.
“It probably has something to do with how light pickups
are driven and their use patterns compared with larger and
Rates differ among similar vehicles: Besides
these broad death rate differences across vehicle groups,
the rates varied within body style and size groups. In almost
every size group of two-door and four-door cars, for example,
the death rate for the worst vehicle was at least twice
as high as the rate for the best vehicle.
Consider the Infiniti G20’s
rate of 46 deaths per million registered years, which was
much lower than rates for other small four-door cars. The
Chevrolet Cavalier’s rate was 162 per million, and
the Pontiac Sunfire’s was 160. The upper confidence
bound for the G20’s death rate is well below the lower
confidence bounds for the other two cars.
“This means that the lower
death rate for the G20 wasn’t due to chance,”
Lund says. A more extreme example involves midsize four
wheel-drive SUVs. The Toyota 4Runner had only 12 driver
deaths per million registered years during 2000-03. This
compares with 134 deaths per million for the two door Ford
Explorer and 119 per million for the Land Rover Discovery
Single- versus multiple-vehicle crashes: In many vehicle groups, driver death rates are split fairly
evenly between single- and multiple-vehicle crashes. But
there are exceptions. Most driver deaths in large four-door
cars and minivans occurred in crashes involving other vehicles.
In contrast, in pickup trucks and SUVs of almost every size
more deaths occurred in single-vehicle crashes. In large
four-wheel-drive SUVs, for example, the death rate was almost
three times as high in single-vehicle crashes as it was
in collisions involving two or more vehicles (14 deaths
per million compared with 40).
Rollover crashes: Eleven vehicles, all
pickups or SUVs, had more than 75 driver deaths per million
in single-vehicle rollover crashes. This is in large part
because pickup trucks and SUVs have relatively high centers
of gravity compared with cars. The Ford Excursion is a very
large SUV with a high rollover death rate. This is at least
in part because its occupancy rate tends to be high, which
raises its center of gravity even higher.
The vehicle with the very highest
driver death rate in single-vehicle rollover crashes was
the two-door, two-wheel-drive Chevrolet Blazer. The 251
deaths per million for this SUV compare with an average
of 63 for all midsize two-wheel-drive SUVs, 34 for four-wheel
drive versions, and 28 for all vehicles in the study.
Not all midsize SUVs had high death
rates in single-vehicle rollovers. The Lexus RX 300, Toyota
4Runner, Nissan Pathfinder,and Acura MDX had 6 or fewer
rollover deaths per million vehicle years. Both the RX 300
and the 4Runner are equipped with electronic stability control,
which has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of
fatal single-vehicle crashes including rollovers
Not one driver death occurred in
a rollover of the RX 300 or four-wheel-drive Toyota RAV4,
a small SUV. This experience doesn’t mean the rates
for these vehicles will be zero every year, but it does
mean very low rates can be expected.
“Small SUVs have had high
rollover death rates in previous years, but as the RAV4
indicates this may be changing. One reason maybe that the
drivers are changing,” Lund points out. “It
used to be that younger people, especially young men, drove
small SUVs, but now many women drive them, including older
women. In addition, as vehicle manufacturers redesign their
small SUVs they’re addressing the rollover problem
in the designs, making these vehicles more stable and less
likely to roll over.”
How the death rates were computed: Rates
of driver death in all crashes plus rates in multiple-vehicle,
single-vehicle, and single-vehicle rollover crashes were
computed for 199 passenger vehicle models (1999-2002) with
at least 120,000 registered vehicleyearsor 20 driver deaths
during the study years.
Each model’s rate represents
the reported number of driver deaths divided by the model’s
number of registered years. Data are from the federal government’s
Fatality Analysis Reporting System and registration counts
from The Polk Company.
Among the vehicles, exposure varies
considerably. For example, the number of registered vehicle
years for midsize two-door cars is nearly 3 million. This
compares with fewer than 300,000 registered years for large
two-door cars. Because of this variability, 95% confidence
intervals were computed with upper and lower oundsindicating
the precision of the computed rates for all crash types.
The rates reflect primarily the
influence of a vehicle’s design and patterns of use.
Because driver demographics can be a major influence, the
death rate for each vehicle was adjusted according to the
proportion of deaths of women 25-64 years old. These drivers
are involved in fewer fatal crashes per licensed driver.
For most vehicles the rates were adjusted by less than 20
“This is the first year we’ve
adjusted the rates to account for some driver characteristics,” Lund says. “The adjustment
takes away some of thedifferencesamong vehicles caused
by differences in driver gender. Other demographic factors
still influence the death rates, but more of the differences
in the rates reflect the vehicles.”
Institute for Highway Safety)