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Auto Crash Testing Advancements Drive Down Fatal Car Accidents

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Cars are getting safer every year, according to a new insurance industry report, with a record-setting number of models attaining a rating of zero deaths per million registered vehicles.

Despite no change in the gulf that divides the safest cars and most dangerous cars, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says cars on the safer side have improved by leaps and bounds. Among late-model vehicles with high safety ratings, the risk of dying in an accident has fallen by about 33 percent.

The institute's study states the safest automobile has a rating of zero deaths per million registered vehicles, while the least safe vehicle has fatality rates of about 100 per million.

That rate of zero deaths per million vehicles doesn't rule out fatalities involving the vehicles, but speaks to how they rarely fail to preserve motorists' lives.

The 2011 model year was the latest year included in the institute's study and it was by far the safest (PDF ).

There are nine 2011 vehicle models that boast zero deaths per every million vehicles and that's a phenomenal improvement, says David Zuby, IIHS executive VP and chief research officer.

For all 2011 models, registered for a year, there was an average of 28 deaths per million. To put those numbers into perspective, there was an average of 48 deaths per million for 2008 model year vehicles registered through the 2009 calendar year.

"This is a huge improvement in just three years, even considering the economy's influence," says Zuby. "We know from our vehicle ratings program that crash test performance has been getting steadily better. These latest death rates provide new confirmation that real world outcomes are improving, too."

After automobiles began to move away from those top-heavy SUV designs in favor of structures with lower centers of gravity, the vehicle style has become the safest. The SUV averaged about 18 deaths per million, while cars fell on the high end with 38 fatalities per million registered.

In a separate IIHS study, the institute found the safety of compact cars is still suffering from an array of issues when faced with the small overlap front test. The test simulates front corner impact with objects like trees and light posts.

"Collapse of the occupant compartment is the downfall for four small cars in this group, including the Fiat 500L, Mazda 5, Nissan Juke and Nissan Leaf," says Joe Nolan, the institute's senior VP for vehicle research. "A sturdy occupant compartment allows the restraint systems to do their job, absorbing energy and controlling occupant motion."

The IIHS reported that compact cars run the gamut from safest to flat out vulnerable, with just one vehicle, the Mini Cooper Countryman, earning a rating of "good."

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