Recently, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) calculated driver death rates in 2017 model vehicles. The independent, nonprofit safety group found substantial evidence that smaller cars fare worse in crashes.
According to the IIHS, it appears that the lighter mass of the vehicles puts them at a disadvantage over larger vehicles in a collision. In fact, vehicles defined as “very large SUVs” were the best in any vehicle category for preventing deaths, with only 15 fatalities per million registered vehicles. On the opposite end of the spectrum, however, minicars had the highest rate at 82 fatalities per million registered vehicles.
Manufacturers have been making efforts to make small cars safer, but they remain the most dangerous. Moreover, the average driver death rate increased in 2017 models over 2014. On average across all vehicles, there was an average of 36 deaths per million registered vehicles. For 2014 models, the average death rate was 30.
The death rate per million registered vehicles is one data point that drivers can use when choosing a vehicle. Others include safety ratings and overall customer satisfaction ratings. You can also compare death rates across vehicle classes in order to see the effect of size and kinetic energy on crashes.
Are there any notably good small cars?
There were two that stood out in the IIHS’s tests: The Volkswagen Golf and the Nissan Leaf. Both did well whether they were rated on vehicle registrations or miles traveled.
This was a redesign for the Golf since the last analysis in 2014. At that time, the car was among the worst performers. The 2015 models and later performed better.
It is important to note that the Nissan Leaf is an all-electric car. This may mean that drivers will drive the vehicle fewer miles than a similarly sized gas-powered vehicle.
When you choose a vehicle for safety, size matters. All other things being equal, it’s simply safer to be in a larger vehicle.