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Car Safety Improves: Study Lists Those With Most, And Least, Driver Deaths

A 2011 Subaru Legacy is among the nine vehicles that were found to have a driver fatality rate of zero in a new report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. (Landov)

A record nine car models recorded driver death rates of zero, in a periodic study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The group's focus on 2011 models driven through 2012 also found the overall death rate fell by more than a third from its previous study.

The new study found that when looking at 2011 models through the 2012 calendar year, driver deaths per million registered vehicle years fell to 28; just three years earlier, the driver death rate was 48.

Despite the gains, the institute found a wide gap between cars, as three models were found to have driver death rates higher than 100.

We've recreated the IIHS data in charts of the cars that had the most and least deaths during the study, below. If your car (or prospective car) isn't listed here, you can use the organization's fancier chart that lets you sort by vehicle size and market segment.

The "huge improvement" was due to the spread of crucial safety features such as electronic stability control and design improvements that made cars safer in front-end crashes, the institute says.

"We know from our vehicle ratings program that crash test performance has been getting steadily better," says David Zuby, the institute's executive vice president and chief research officer. "These latest death rates provide new confirmation that real-world outcomes are improving, too."

It seems that the improvements haven't stopped with the 2011 models. As we reported last month, "the number of vehicles winning [the IIHS's] two safety awards jumped from 39 to 71 for the 2015 model year."

The institute says that for its report, a "registered vehicle year" could be either one car that was registered for 12 months or several cars that total up to the same amount of time. Cars that are included must have at least 100,000 registered vehicle years during 2009-12 or at least 20 deaths.

If you're wondering about how the institute calculates the driver death rate, here's an explanation:

"To increase the exposure and thereby improve the accuracy of the calculations, results are included for the previous three model years if the vehicle wasn't substantially redesigned during that time. These calculations take into account only deaths of drivers, not passengers, since every vehicle that crashes has a driver, but not every vehicle has passengers."

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