Good news for many motorists and a warning to others. New statistics released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reveal that the chance of dying in a car accident has dropped by one-third over the last 3 years because of design and safety improvements in newer model vehicles, and whether you survive a car accident may depend upon the vehicle in which you are riding.

Although 33,561 died in motor vehicle related accidents in 2012, the IIHS estimates that 2012 saw 7,700 fewer driver deaths because of vehicle changes made since 1985. Motor vehicle accident death rate statistics from 1985 through 2012 show that better structural design, the addition of safety features, and the creation of different vehicle types, contributed significantly to the reduction in driver death rates. Safety features like driver, passenger and side air bags have improved survival rates in a motor vehicle accident and SUVs, once extremely dangerous because of the risk of rollover, are now some of the safest vehicles on the road because of their electronic stabilization systems.

Researchers found that for 2011 – 12, there were 28 driver deaths per 1 million registered for 2011 model vehicles or similar earlier models, a significant improvement from 2008 – 09 statistics showing 48 driver deaths per 1 million registered vehicles for 2008 model or similar earlier models.

Generally speaking, the larger the vehicle, the lower the death rate. The car with the highest driver death rate, the Kia Rio, is classified as a “mini” vehicle with 149 driver deaths per million registered vehicles, while all the safest vehicles have fewer than 6 deaths per million registered, and all are classified as either mid-sized, large or very large vehicles or are SUVs. Although death rates are down overall, there is a huge difference in the death rate depending on the size of the vehicle.

Did your car make the safest or least safe list?

Of the 19 vehicles on the safest list, 13 are considered mid-size and 6 either large, very large or SUV. There are no small or mini vehicles on the safest vehicle list.

Vehicles with the lowest driver death rate have less than 6 driver deaths per 1 million registered vehicles, and include:

  • Audi A4 4WD
  • Honda Odyssey
  • Kia Sorento 2WD
  • Lexus RX 350 4WD
  • Mercedes-Benz GL-Class 4WD
  • Subaru Legacy 4WD
  • Toyota Highlander hybrid 4WD
  • Toyota Sequoia 4WD
  • Volvo XC90 4WD
  • Honda Pilot 4WD
  • Mercedes-Benz M-Class 4WD
  • Ford Crown Victoria
  • GMC Yukon 4WD
  • Acura TL 2WD
  • Chevrolet Equinox 2WD
  • Chevrolet Equinox 4WD
  • Ford Expedition 4WD
  • Ford Flex 2WD
  • Mazda CX-9 4WD

Vehicles with the highest death rates include some of the most popular vehicles on the road like the Honda Civic and Ford Focus. Of the 19 vehicles on this list, 13 are small or mini vehicles, two are considered mid-size, and four large or very large vehicles including three Chevrolets and the Mercury Grand Marquis.

Vehicles with the highest driver death rate with more than 46 driver deaths per million registered vehicles include:

  • Kia Rio
  • Nissan Versa sedan
  • Hyundai Accent
  • Chevrolet Aveo 4-door
  • Hyundai Accent
  • Chevrolet Camaro coupe
  • Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Crew 4WD
  • Honda Civic, 2-door
  • Nissan Versa hatchback
  • Ford Focus
  • Nissan Cube
  • Chevrolet HHR
  • Chevrolet Suburban 1500 2WD
  • Chevrolet Aveo station wagon
  • Mercury Grand Marquis
  • Jeep Patriot 2WD
  • Mazda 6
  • Dodge Nitro 2WD
  • Honda Civic, 4-door

To improve your odds of surviving a car accident no matter in what vehicle you are traveling, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends wearing a seatbelt or wearing a helmet if you are riding on a motorcycle. To reduce the number of car accidents nationwide, the NHTSA also recommends returning the maximum federal speed limit to 55 mph, and advocates using sobriety checkpoints and cameras on roadways and intersections to help incentivize drivers to slow down and obey traffic laws.