Bigger may not be better, faster, or greener, but for passenger cars, larger cars are safer than smaller, according to automotive research firm iSeeCars. In its analysis of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) annual report, the fatal accident rate for passenger cars decreases as their size increases.
Pulling data from the 2017 FARS data tables, the most recent report, the fatal accident rates per billion vehicle miles were 2.6 for large passenger cars, 3.3 for midsize cars, 3.8 for compact cars, and 4.5 for subcompacts. The overall average rate for passenger cars was 3.3 fatalities per billion miles, significantly higher than the overall 2.3 fatalities for light-duty pickup trucks and 1.7 fatalities for SUVs. The report used data from vehicles from model years 2013 to 2017.
“Despite recent advances in safety technology, our data suggests that small vehicles still aren’t as safe as larger vehicles when they are involved in serious accidents. Subcompact cars have a fatal accident rate of 4.5 cars per billion vehicle miles, which is almost double the overall average,” said iSeeCars CEO Phong Ly.
Among passenger cars, the three with the most frequent occupant fatalities per billion miles were the Mitsubishi Mirage (10.2 deaths), Chevrolet Corvette (9.8 deaths), and Honda Fit (7.7 deaths), according to iSeeCars. Overall, six subcompacts and six sports cars were among 14 vehicles with fatality rates more than twice as high as the average for all vehicles.
Subcompact cars’ relative absence of activity safety features and below-average ratings in specific crash safety tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) are possible reasons for their much higher than average fatality rates.
Referring to the Corvette and other sports cars on the list of 14, Ly said, “Sports cars are the vehicle segment with the highest fatal accident rate of 4.6 cars per billion vehicle miles. They’re designed to prioritize speed and acceleration, so it is perhaps no surprise that their accidents result in a high number of fatalities.”
Among SUVs, which as a category had the lowest fatality rates per billion vehicle miles, the vehicles with the highest rates were the Kia Sportage (3.8), Jeep Wrangler (3.6), and Lincoln MKT (3.3). In all, 10 SUVs had fatal accident rates at least 1.5 times higher than the average for all SUVs.
Light-duty pickup trucks averaged 2.3 fatalities per billion miles, a significantly lower death rate than the 3.3 deaths involving passenger cars, but higher than the average SUV 1.7 rate. The three pickup trucks with the highest average fatality rates were the Nissan Frontier (3.9), Ram Pickup 1500 2.6), and Chevrolet Silverado 1500 (2.5), according to iSeeCars.