It’s official: Roads are getting safer. According to a recent report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there are a record nine late-model cars on the road with zero reported driver deaths. Analyzing data from 2009 to 2012 (from cars built between 2009 and 2011), the IIHS has found that the number of reported fatal accidents has declined significantly since it began analyzing individual makes and models 30 years ago. Innovations in vehicle design, production, and safety requirements have led to significantly safer roads, resulting in 7,700 fewer driver deaths in 2012 than there were in 1985.
According to the study, there were 28 driver deaths per 1 million registered vehicles made between 2009 and 2012, a drastic decrease from the 2007 report, which had a reported 79 deaths per 1 million. The nine models with no driver deaths are a first for the IIHS: In the 2007 report, there were zero fatality-free cars. Overall, this is good news for the auto industry. It means safety has continued to improve in an era dominated by economic recession, turmoil in the auto industry, and a record number of safety recalls.
Despite the positive implications of the report, it also sheds light on some disturbing trends that must be addressed. The gap between safe and unsafe models is still alarmingly high, with 19 models sporting more than than 46 driver deaths per 1 million. The compact Kia Rio earned the ignominious title of most dangerous model of 2009 to 2012, with 149 fatalities per 1 million registered vehicles. Of the 13 models with the most driver deaths, six cars were made by Chevrolet. While these statistics are daunting, it makes the nine safest models on the road seem that much more impressive. Here are the IIHS’s nine safest cars on the road (in no particular order).
1. Audi A4
Audi’s midsize sports sedan has spent years facing stiff competition from the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the BMW 3-Series — but neither of those cars ended up on the IIHS list. The late-model A4 was available with Audi’s legendary Quattro four-wheel drive system, and it ranked on U.S. News and World Report’s best Upscale Midsize Cars list. It also scored a near-perfect 9.6 out of 10 on that publication’s safety test.
2. Honda Odyssey
The Honda Odyssey has been little changed since 2011, and it’s still one of the most popular people movers around. Honda is acutely aware that most minivans are bought to carry families, and the Odyssey’s safety record doesn’t disappoint. It’s the only minivan to make the list, and the IIHS’s results should only help to increase the Honda’s already sterling reputation.
3. Kia Sorento
The Sorento was all new for 2011 and offered the comfort and utility of a full-size crossover at a bargain price. The big Kia can seat seven and has earned the reputation as one of the safest crossovers on the road. As the all-new 2016 model hits showrooms this month, this late-model Sorento has some serious safety chops that should make it attractive to used-car shoppers.
4. Lexus RX 350 AWD
The RX 350 has long been one of the most ubiquitous cars on the road. It’s been the best-selling luxury SUV in America since its introduction in 1998, and with good cause: The 2011 model ranked first on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Luxury Midsize SUV list, and the IIHS report only confirms that the Lexus’s reputation for safety matches its luxury pedigree. With accolades like these, its hard to find a better midsize SUV than the RX 350.
5. Mercedes-Benz GL-Class
Mercedes’s luxurious full-size SUV is an impressive vehicle: It’s a comfortable long-trip hauler that’s at home both on and off-road, and it’s one of the safest vehicles money can buy. While a new GL-Class has bowed since the IIHS study, the performance of the late-model GL only cements Mercedes’s reputation for building some of the best SUVs on or off-road.
6. Subaru Legacy
The Legacy is the underdog of the midsize sedan segment. While it’s not a volume seller like the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry, it’s managed to carve out its own niche in the segment by offering Subaru’s legendary all-wheel drive system as standard, as well as a solid reputation for comfort, value, and fuel economy. The Legacy also stands out for its safety in the segment: It’s the only Japanese sedan on the IIHS list.
7. Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Toyota has long been the standard bearer for hybrids, and its greener version of the Highlander is one of the safest and most economical SUVs on the road. The late-model hybrid combined the comfort and familiarity of the seven-passenger V6 Highlander with an electric motor, raising fuel economy to a respectable 28 miles per gallon. The SUV’s reputation for safety, along with Toyota’s proven hybrid technology, make the late-model Highlander an attractive option for eco-conscious used car shoppers.
8. Toyota Sequoia
Toyota’s full-size Sequoia is a massive SUV that easily lives up to its name. While the late-model Sequoia was barely changed since 2008, the V8-powered SUV remained highly competitive in its class, and it was named U.S. News and World Report’s Best Affordable Large SUV for Families in 2011. The IIHS recognition is only further proof that the well-built Toyota is one of the best SUVs on the market.
9. Volvo XC90
No other automaker has a reputation for safety quite like Volvo. The company that pioneered many of today’s modern safety features has carried on its tradition with the XC90, the largest model in Volvo’s lineup. While a new XC90 debuts in March, the current SUV has been little changed throughout its 12-year model run, making it the longest-running model on the list. The IIHS report brings Volvo one step closer to its Vision 2020 goal, The company has a comprehensive plan to create a lineup with zero driver deaths by 2020.
Because of the time it took to compile the data, most of these cars are now late-model vehicles. Still, their reputation for safety should make them attractive buys on the used car market. The IIHS report is a great sign that our roads are getting progressively safer. Until the rest of the industry catches up, these nine models are proven to keep you the safest on the road.
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