Small Cars are Still Dangerous, New Report Shows

By  //  September 14, 2020


When purchasing a car, many consumers do not consider how the size of the car may impact the vehicle’s safety. However, in a recent study, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) compared driver fatality rates of different vehicles and models to determine the safety of each car.

When purchasing a car, many consumers do not consider how the size of the car may impact the vehicle’s safety.

However, in a recent study, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) compared driver fatality rates of different vehicles and models to determine the safety of each car.

The organization found that smaller cars had a higher average fatality rate when compared to other vehicle categories, such as SUVs.

Similarly, the new study also identifies which specific car models had the highest fatality rates compared to other cars made in 2017.

The Danger of Small Cars

In their report, the IIHS found that for the 2017 model year, small cars were among 15 of the top 20 deadliest models, accounting for 75 percent total. This included many small four-doors, two-door, and mini-car models.

“Smaller cars may be more deadly than larger vehicles for several reasons,” said attorney Allen Tittle of Tittle & Perlmuter. “Because of their mass, small cars may get pushed back or be more likely to slide under larger vehicles in the event of a collision. This could lead to a greater chance of a fatality or significant injury occurring.”

Larger sport utility vehicles (SUVs) had the lowest overall fatality rate of 15 fatalities per million registered vehicle years. Conversely, minicars had the highest fatality rate of 82 fatalities per million registered vehicle years, more than five times greater than larger SUVs.

Which Vehicles were the Deadliest?

Vehicle fatality rates varied greatly for 2017 model cars according to the IIHS report data. While several vehicles reported no fatal accidents, the Ford Fiesta was found to have 141 fatalities per million registered vehicle years.

As a result, the 2017 Ford Fiesta was identified as the deadliest car model in 2017 with nearly four times the average fatality rate. Similarly, other four-door cars, such as the Hyundai Accent and Chevrolet Sonic, had high fatality rates of 116 and 98 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years, respectively.

Compact and mini cars, including the Fiat 500 and Nissan Versa Note, were also found to have over double the average fatality rate for 2017 vehicles.

Conversely, the IIHS also identified cars with fatality rates that were lower compared to other vehicles overall and within the same category. When examining the fatality rates of small cars, the IIHS found that the Volkswagen Golf and Nissan Leaf had vehicle death rates significantly lower than average.

When reviewing the top 20 vehicles with the lowest overall driver fatality rates, the IIHS found that nine were luxury SUVs. In evaluating their findings, the IIHS attributed the increased safety of luxury vehicles to the additional safety features which may not be included in the production of less-expensive cars.

Some of these features include parking sensors, blind-spot monitors, and automatic emergency brakes.

Vehicle Fatalities Overall

Overall, the IIHS found that some newer car models may be more dangerous than previous years. Specifically, the organization found that 2017 model cars had an increased fatality rate when compared to 2014 models, with 36 deaths per million registered vehicles compared to 30, respectively.

These fatalities contributed to overall annual motor vehicle deaths. According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Fatal Accident Reporting System, over 36,000 fatal roadway accidents occurred in 2018.

Specifically, drivers of non-motorcycle motor vehicles accounted for half of the overall fatalities, with 18,250 deaths total.

Safety Features of Vehicles

As newer technology becomes more available and affordable, many auto-manufacturers are including additional safety features in newer cars that could help prevent fatal accidents. These features include adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning systems, and additional cameras that could help with passenger or vehicle detection.

These innovations could help drivers proactively prevent collisions and fatal accidents by providing them with additional information, or by acting as a safeguard to prevent driver mistakes.

Limitations of the IIHS Study

A notable limitation of the IIHS study is that the researchers did not account for some notable variables that may affect the likelihood of being involved in an accident.

These include factors such as the speed at which a car was driving, road conditions, or the distance a car may drive in a given day. To account for some of these factors, the IIHS recreated their study to account for mileage data that was available for automobile accidents.

Having done this, the researchers found that the size of the vehicle continues to be a major factor in the likelihood of a fatal accident occurring.

Motor Vehicle Fatality Trends

Despite smaller cars continuing to be a contributor to annual driver fatalities, recent NHTSA data indicates that total driver fatalities have decreased in recent years.

The NHTSA FARS shows that 2018, the most recent year the data is available, had the least amount of motor vehicle fatalities since 2015. Additionally, motor vehicle fatality rates varied greatly between states.

Specifically, South Carolina and Mississippi had the highest fatality rates, with 1.83 and 1.63 roadway deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, respectively. Conversely, Massachusetts and Minnesota had the lowest fatality rates of 0.54 and 0.63 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, nearly one-third the rate of South Carolina.

Safe Driving Tips

Although fatality rates can differ across vehicles, drivers of smaller vehicles ought to follow safe driving guidelines in order to prevent future collisions. One important safety measure to observe is to avoid cutting off larger vehicles, whose operators may require more space to safely slow down or come to a stop.

Similarly, having awareness of the potential space a large truck or vehicle may need in order to safely make a turn may also prevent an accident from occurring. Additionally, a driver of a small vehicle ought to avoid driving within the blind spots of a driver operating a truck or other large vehicle.

In addition to being cognizant of the space restrictions and requirements of other drivers, there are actions that small car drivers ought to take from within their own vehicles. Some of these include buckling your seatbelt, disengaging from aggressive drivers, and reducing potential distractions.