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Car Safety Report: Bigger Is Better

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- Remember when SUVS drew consumer focus over rollover worries? Well, a study says SUVs are safer than ever, and tiny cars are the most likely to result in a fatality.

That's one of the lessons from the latest edition of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Status Report, which tracks car crash and mortality statistics. The good news is that car crash deaths are down overall: Between 2006 and 2009, the death rate for drivers of 2005-08 models was just 48 people per million registered vehicle years (defined as a vehicle registered for a year, or two vehicles registered for six months). According to the report, the death rate for 2001-04 models was 79, so this represents a significant improvement over just five years.

a study says SUVs are safer than ever, and tiny cars are the most likely to result in a fatality.

But the data also show that your chance of dying in a car accident goes up as your car gets smaller. The report lists death rates by style and size, comparing the prevalence of fatal accidents in car types such as a midsize four-door or a mini station wagon, for instance. Here are the top 10 with the highest likelihood of driver death, as measured in deaths per million registered vehicle years:

1. Mini sports car: 83
2. Mini four-door: 82
3. Midsize sports car: 80
4. Small four-door: 72
5. Mini two-door: 70
6. Small two-door: 62 (tie)
6. Small two-wheel drive: 62 (tie)
8. Mini station wagon: 61
9. Small station wagon: 59
10. Midsize two-door: 58

Not a single large car cracked the top 10, and the only midsize style in the top five was the sports car. Even SUVs, which used to be considered dangerous -- despite their size -- due to the risk of rollover, didn't crack the top 10. The riskiest SUVs were small two-wheel drive models, but even those had just 41 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years. Meanwhile, large four-wheel drive SUVs were the safest cars on the road, resulting in just 15 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years. And it's not just size that matters: pound-for-pound, SUVs are the safest cars on the road.

The IIHS takes note of this phenomenon, observing that advancing technology has greatly lessened the risk of rolling over in an SUV.

"The change is due largely to the widespread availability of electronic stability control, which helps prevent rollovers," the report says. "With the propensity to roll over reduced, SUVs are on balance safer than cars because their bigger size and weight provide greater protection in a crash."

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