Report on Car Safety and Size

Car Insurance and accidentsSometimes more is more … Minicars and subcompacts fared poorly in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s new and more stringent small-overlap frontal crash test—only one of the 11 models tested recently achieved an acceptable rating. Our backgrounder has more information about the history of the IIHS crash tests and vehicle accidents.

  • In 2012, 33,561 people died in motor vehicle crashes, up 3.3 percent from 32,479 in 2011, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of five and 34 (2010 data).

  • A motor vehicle death occurred on average every 16 minutes in 2012.

  • About 92 people died each day in motor vehicle crashes in 2012.

Lives Saved by Safety Devices

  • Airbags: Airbags are designed to inflate in moderate to severe frontal crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that frontal airbags saved 2,204 lives in 2011. Airbags, combined with seatbelts, are the most effective safety protection available for passenger vehicles. Seatbelts alone reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent. The fatality-reducing effectiveness for airbags is 14 percent when no seatbelt is used and 11 percent when a seatbelt is used in conjunction with airbags. Side airbags, which protect the head, chest and abdomen, reduce driver deaths by an estimated 37 percent, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
  • Seatbelts: Among passenger vehicle occupants over the age of four, seatbelts saved an estimated 11,949 lives in 2011 and 292,471 lives from 1975 through 2011. In fatal crashes in 2011, 77 percent of passenger vehicle occupants who were totally ejected from the vehicle were killed.
  • Child Safety Seats: NHTSA says that in 2011 the lives of an estimated 263 children under the age of five were saved by restraints.
  • Motorcycle Helmets: NHTSA estimates that helmets saved the lives of 1,617 motorcyclists in 2011. If all motorcyclists had worn helmets, an additional 703 lives could have been saved.
  • Helmets are estimated to be 37 percent effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcycle riders and 41 percent for motorcycle passengers. In other words, for every 100 motorcycle riders killed in crashes while not wearing a helmet, 37 of them could have been saved had all 100 worn helmets.
  • Electronic Stability Control: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requires all vehicles manufactured after model year 2012 to have electronic stability control (ESC). All new passenger cars, light trucks, SUVs and vans must comply with the requirement. ESC was designed to help prevent rollovers and other types of crashes by controlling brakes and engine power. NHTSA says ESC saved an estimated 634 passenger car occupant lives in 2011 and 411 lives among light truck and van occupants for a total of 1,045 lives saved among passenger vehicle occupants. The 2011 total for lives saved was 19.3 percent higher than the 876 lives saved in 2010, and 48.2 percent higher than the 705 lives saved in 2009, as more cars on the road are sold equipped with ESC.
  • In the 2011 model year, 94 percent of light trucks and vans were equipped with ESC and 92 percent of passenger cars had ESC. This compares with 22 percent and 14 percent, respectively, in 2005.
  • In June 2010 the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) released the findings of a study that found that ESC for passenger vehicles is one of the most effective technologies for the prevention of fatal crashes, especially rollovers. IIHS data show that it lowers the risk of a deadly crash by 33 percent and cuts the risk of a single-vehicle rollover by 73 percent. The IIHS examined 10 years of crash data from NHTSA. Read more at