Zachary Berry

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With more motorists driving more miles and choosing larger vehicles, smaller subcompact cars are now at a higher risk of being involved in deadly accidents

Germany vs. Algeria: Hyundai Accent

The Hyundai Accent was determined to be the vehicle most likely to be involved in a fatal crash

Memorial Day is often regarded as one of the most dangerous holidays to travel during. As such, the latest survey from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) couldn’t have been published at a more appropriate time.

Unfortunately, the IIHS study doesn’t bear good news. It reports that driver death rates are on the rise once again.


Traffic Fatalities on the Rise: US Government Issues Call to Action As Traffic Deaths Increase 7.2%


The average death rate for 2014 model year vehicles was found to be 30 per 1 million registered vehicles. For comparison, the average death rate for 2011 model year vehicles was 28 per 1 million vehicles.

Furthermore, motor-vehicle related fatalities increased by around 7% in 2015. In fact, 35,092 deaths caused by vehicle crashes were reported in 2015, more than the estimated 34,216 deaths for that year.

Despite advancements to safety features, vehicular fatalities are on the rise

Now estimates are calling fro 35,411 crash-related deaths in 2016. So what’s causing this increase in vehicle-related fatalities? The IIHS believes that more motor travel and a strong economy are the culprits.

According to Charles Farmer, the IIHS vice president for research and statistical services, the number of crash-related deaths is directly correlated to the average number of miles traveled by motorists, which is itself connected to low unemployment rates. With a much more robust economy comes lower unemployment rates, which in turn serves as an incentive for drivers to get out on the road more.

Also convincing drivers to, well, drive more are lower gas prices, which is a benefit of the currently stable economy. With a current unemployment rate of just 4.9%, drivers feel much more confident spending more time on the road, thus making it more likely that they might be involved in a crash.

2017 Toyota Yaris iA Exterior

There’s bad news for drivers of tiny cars

Of course, that’s not the only trend that the IIHS study uncovered. In looking at the 2014 model year vehicles that were involved in the most fatal accidents, a trend emerged. Namely, most of them were subcompact vehicles.

Of the 10 vehicles with the highest driver death rates, five of them were subcompact vehicles, including the 2014 Hyundai Accent. The Accent sedan had the highest overall death rate of any 2014 vehicle on the road, with 104 driver deaths per 1 million registered vehicles.

2017 Kia Rio

Despite both being near the top of the list, both the Accent and the Rio managed to prevent more fatal accidents in 2014 than 2011

Other subcompact cars included on the list of the top 10 deadliest vehicles to be in during a crash were the Kia Rio, the Chevrolet Spark, the Ford Fiesta, and the Nissan Versa. The 2014 Kia Soul and Nissan Titan were the only vehicles on the list that were not cars.

The study did find some good news, however. The Accent’s driver death rate was actually down from 2011, where 120 Accents per 1 million vehicles were involved in a fatal accident. In 2011, the Kia Rio was by and large the deadliest vehicle model to be in during an accident, as it had a driver death rate of 149 per 1 million vehicles.

2016 Jeep Cherokee Off-Road

Those who consider SUVs to be a safe vehicle choice are probably right

Meanwhile, a total of 11 2014 model year vehicles were involved in no fatal accidents at all, with two vehicles from the BMW 5 Series. Out of those 11 models, six were SUVs.

However, this is not to say that SUVs are better at avoiding accidents in the first place. According to WikiLender, four of the 10 vehicles with the highest rates of reported and unreported accidents were SUV models. This includes the Lexus RX 350, which made the IIHS list of vehicles involved in no fatal accidents despite 14.4% of of RX 350 vehicles being involved in an accident of some kind.

WikiLender notes that the BMW 4 Series is the vehicle with the highest chance of being involved in an accident, with 18.5% of 4 Series models being involved in an accident of some kind

With none of the vehicles involved in the most fatal accidents making it onto the list of vehicles with the highest rate of accidents period, two conclusions can be drawn. Based on the high number of SUVs involved in zero fatal accidents, despite many being involved in high rates of overall accidents, it’s safe to say that a wide range of SUV vehicles do a proficient job at keeping drivers safe.

Unfortunately, their large size might spell trouble for smaller vehicles. Despite not being involved in a large number of overall accidents, subcompact cars make up half of the vehicles involved in the most fatal accidents, even taking the top spot.

Crash Milk Truck

Physics will always favor the larger vehicle in a crash
Photo: WKBN

If a subcompact car were to become involved in a crash with a larger SUV or truck, physics and sheer mass will favor the SUV, potentially causing more damage to the subcompact vehicle. With an increasing amount of SUVs and trucks on the road, partly due to a strong economy and low gas prices, these subcompact cars are more likely to encounter a larger vehicles during a crash, thush increasing the chance of a potentially fatal crash.

The IIHS notes that advanced safety technologies like automatic braking weren’t standard in a lot of vehicles in 2014 unlike today, so future surveys may yield a much lower number of fatal crashes. Until then, subcompact car drivers will have to be a little more careful out on the road, while SUV drivers will need to keep a watchful eye out for their fellow motorists driving smaller vehicles.


Back When Fatalities Were on the Decline: DoT, NHTSA: 2013 Traffic Fatalities Declined 3.1 Percent



2014 Audi A6 (4WD)

2014 Audi A6

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2014 BMW 5 Series (535/is 2WD and 535xi 4WD)

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2014 Jeep Cherokee (4WD)

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited

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2014 Mercedes-Benz M-Class (4WD)

April sales for Mercedes

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2014 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab (Long Bed 4WD)

Corolla or Focus

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2014 Volkswagen Tiguan (2WD)

2014 Volkswagen Tiguan Overview

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Sources: IIHS, WikiLender