The highway death toll has been plunging rapidly in recent years, and safety experts are crediting a number of factors, including improved roadways and a crackdown on drunk driving. But a new study puts the spotlight on vehicle design and improved technology for both preventing crashes and keeping motorists alive when they do occur.
A record total of nine models sold during the 2011 model-year have had a driver death rate of zero, meaning no one was killed in a crash involving those vehicles during the period studied by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. IIHS released a report on the findings Thursday.
"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," said IIHS vice president and chief research officer David Zuby.
The nine vehicles are:
- Audi A4 4WD
- Honday Odyssey
- Kia Sorento 2WD
- Lexus RX 350 4WD
- Mercedes-Benz GL-Class 4WD
- Subaru Legacy 4WD
- Toyota Highlander hybrid 4WD
- Toyota Sequioa 4WD
- Volvo XC90 4WD
On the whole, the insurance industry research group's study shows that today's cars, trucks and crossovers are getting safer. Had vehicles not undergone major improvements over the previous quarter century, estimated the IIHS, there would have been 7,700 more fatalities in just the year 2012.
Part of the reason is improved crash-worthiness. Since the IIHS introduced the tough new small offset crash test several years ago, a growing number of vehicles have begun passing. That's important because the test is meant to replicate what happens when two cars clip one another going in opposite directions, or when a vehicle hits a pole or other small, stationary object.
IIHS Vice President Russ Rader also said that new safety technologies, such as forward collision warning, have been playing a crucial role. The goal is to prevent crashes in the first place.