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Safer cars: 9 models had zero deaths in study

Safest luxury car? Study says Audi A4. Safest minivan? Honda Odyssey. Safest SUV? Kia Sorento

When it comes to auto safety, bigger is still better. A record number of large and midsize cars have scored precedent-setting zero driver death rates in a new study.

Large and midsize vehicles had vastly fewer driver deaths than small and mini cars, according to a comprehensive study just released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The Audi A4, Kia Sorento, Lexus RX 350, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Highlander and Volvo XC90, among midsize vehicles, scored an overall death rate of zero for the years examined by the study.

The Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sequoia and Mercedes-Benz GL class were the large or very large vehicles that also had zero deaths during the study period.

Small cars were far more deadly.

The Kia Rio, a four-door car in the institute's "mini" class, experienced an overall driver death per million registered vehicle years rate of 149 -- the highest of the vehicles studied. (A registered vehicle year is the equivalent of one vehicle, registered for one year.) The Nissan Versa sedan, a four-door car in the "small" car category, was just behind, with 130 overall driver deaths per million. The Versa also had the highest "single vehicle rollover rate" of any car studied.

Also in the mini category, with overall driver death rates per million of more than 60, were the Hyundai Accent four-door, Hyundai Accent two-door, and Chevrolet Aveo. Joining the Versas in the small sedan category were the Honda Civic, Nissan Versa Hatchback, Ford Focus, Nissan Cube, and Chevrolet HHR.

Chevrolet also scored black eyes in the large category, with its Camaro sports car and Silverado 1500 Crew pickup truck. The Camaro had the dubious distinction of leading the league in single vehicle crash rates.

The study focused on 2011 model year vehicles, and only those with widespread use. The results, IIHS said, showed that overall driver deaths were almost half what they were at the time of the last IIHS study in 2008 -- 28 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years, down from 48 in 2008.

Overall, the study concluded, the chances of dying in a car crash are falling because of improvements in auto safety technology. Eight years ago, for example, the IIHS found no vehicles with driver death rates of zero. In this study, the institute found nine vehicles that had no driver deaths during the years studied.

"The complete elimination of traffic deaths is still many decades away," said David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer. "Still, the rise in the number of vehicles with zero driver deaths shows what's possible."

Zuby's research concluded that "mini cars and small cars dominate" the list of worst vehicles. "With some exceptions," the study said, "death rates tend to go down as size goes up."

Of the 19 top vehicles with fewer than 6 driver deaths per million, none were from the small or mini categories.

Twitter: @misterfleming

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