At Your Own Risk: These Vehicles Have The Highest Death Rates

June 9, 2011
2007 Nissan 350Z

2007 Nissan 350Z

2008 Chevrolet Aveo

2008 Chevrolet Aveo

It's might be hard to believe looking at safety equipment lists, or even crash-test results, but you're statistically a few hundred times more likely to die if you're behind the wheel of a Nissan 350Z or Chevrolet Aveo than if you're in a Toyota Sienna or Audi A6.

Looking at driver deaths per million registered vehicle years, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has released its latest annual figures on a model-by-model basis and found a vast difference between models. For instance, the Nissan 350Z has the highest fatality rate, at 143 versus, a number of vehicles—including the Toyota Sienna, plus all-wheel-drive versions of the Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class plus 4WD versions of a number of mid-size SUVs—essentially rounded down to zero.

But looking at the fatality-rate numbers at face value would be unfair. Of course, these rates don't have all that much to do with the relative safety of vehicles and are more indicative of typical use and location—as well as the demographics and driving styles of their drivers.

For the Nissan Z, for example, its high rate was mostly due to an especially high instance of single-vehicle crashes—a reckless-driving situation in which the vehicle leaves the roadway to hit a tree or barrier, for example. And the Chevy Malibu Classic has an especially high rate of deaths in multiple-vehicle crashes—likely related to how that model was used mostly in rental-car fleets, with travelers who are fatigued or in unfamiliar locales.

The latest results do point out a couple of very significant trends, however: First, that size counts; all but 3 of the 26 models with the lowest death rates are mid-size or larger, the IIHS points out. Second, even with the same weight class, SUVs are arguably now saferand have lower death rates. As we pointed out in separate posts, electronic stability control is working and has erased the rollover disadvantage once held.

The rates and rankings are calculated based on driver deaths only, not those of passengers, for model-year 2005-2008 vehicles during calendar years 2006 through 2009. 

Filtering out multiple versions or body styles of like models, here are the vehicles with the highest rates of driver death:

Nissan 350Z – 143 (deaths per million registered vehicle miles)
Nissan Titan (crew cab) – 126
Chevrolet Aveo – 119
Chevrolet Cobalt (4-door) – 117
Kia Spectra – 102
Chevrolet Malibu Classic – 99
Hyundai Tiburon – 96
Nissan Versa – 96
Chevrolet Colorado (extended cab) – 93
Kia Rio – 89


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