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SUV drivers now among least likely to die in crash — study

/ Source: msnbc.com news services

SUV drivers are now among the least likely to die in a car crash, according to new findings released Thursday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

The change is due largely to the widespread availability of electronic stability control (ESC), which helps prevent rollovers. With the propensity to roll over reduced, SUVs are on balance safer than cars because their bigger size and weight provide greater protection in a crash, the IIHS said.

“The rollover risk in SUVs used to outweigh their size/weight advantage, but that’s no longer the case, thanks to ESC,” said Anne McCartt, the Institute’s senior vice president for research.

When driver death rates are looked at by vehicle style, minivans have the best record with a death rate of 25 driver deaths per million registered vehicles, the insurance industry-funded safety group found. SUVs aren’t far behind at 28, and pickup trucks average 52 driver deaths. Cars have a death rate of 56, but smaller cars fare worse than bigger ones, with four-door minicars showing a death rate of 82, compared with 46 for very large 4-door cars.

The IIHS analysis measured driver death rates from 2006 through 2009, covering the 2005-8 model years. It found an overall death rate of 48 deaths per million registered vehicles during that period.

It’s not just weight that gives SUVs an advantage. It’s also the vehicle’s height and other factors. When cars and SUVs of similar weight are compared, the SUVs have lower death rates, the IIHS said.