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NHTSA: Most Deadly Cars To Drive In U.S.

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The Most Deadly Cars in the U.S.

NHTSA Driving Accident Fatality Charts

Special To The Auto Channel
By Julie Blackley

Small Cars and Sports Cars are the Most Deadly

Occupant fatalities from car crashes occur almost twice as often in subcompact cars and sports cars compared to the average vehicle, according to the latest study by automotive research firm and car search engine analyzed fatality data of model year 2013-2017 cars from the U.S. Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and more than 25 million used cars from the same model years to determine the vehicles that are most often involved in fatal accidents. It found that there are 14 models that are at least two times as likely as the average vehicle to be involved in a fatal accident.

iSeeCars Study - Cars with the Most Frequent Occupant Fatalities
Rank Vehicle Fatal Accident Rate (Cars per Billion Vehicle Miles)
1 Mitsubishi Mirage 10.2
2 Chevrolet Corvette 9.8
3 Honda Fit 7.7
4 Kia Forte 7.4
5 Chevrolet Spark 7.2
6 Subaru BRZ 6.9
7 Nissan 370Z 6.2
8 Nissan Versa 6.1
9 Kia Rio 5.9
10 Dodge Challenger   5.8
11 Chevrolet Camaro 5.5
12 Kia Soul 5.3
13 Hyundai Veloster Turbo 5.2
14 Nissan Versa Note 5.2
Average for All Vehicles 2.6
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Subcompact cars and sports cars tie as the most represented vehicle categories with six vehicles each. “Despite recent advances in safety technology, our data suggests that small vehicles still aren’t as safe as larger vehicles when they are involved in serious accidents. Subcompact cars have a fatal accident rate of 4.5 cars per billion vehicle miles, which is almost double the overall average,” said iSeeCars CEO Phong Ly. “Sports cars are the vehicle segment with the highest fatal accident rate of 4.6 cars per billion vehicle miles. They’re designed to prioritize speed and acceleration, so it is perhaps no surprise that their accidents result in a high number of fatalities.”

The subcompact cars with the highest fatal accident rates include the Mitsubishi Mirage with the most fatalities followed by the third-highest Honda Fit, the fifth-highest Chevrolet Spark, the eighth-highest Nissan Versa, the ninth-highest Kia Rio, and the fourteenth-highest Nissan Versa Note.

One possible reason for the subcompact segment’s prevalence on the list could be the result of a lack of active safety features. “The Chevrolet Spark and the Honda Fit are the only subcompacts in the model years examined that include active safety features beyond rearview cameras on some trims,” said Ly. “For its 2016 model year, the Spark introduced forward collision warning, lane departure warning and blind spot monitoring, while the Fit introduced a passenger side blind spot monitoring system in 2015.”

Another common trend among the cars in the subcompact segment is below-average performance on crash safety tests. While many of these vehicles have four and five-star overall safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), they did not perform well in certain crash safety tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The Mitsubishi Mirage, Nissan Versa, and the Nissan Versa Note each earned the lowest possible “poor” rating in the IIHS small overlap front driver test, which tests what happens when the vehicle’s front corner collides with another car or an object such as a pole.

The six sports cars that make the list of vehicles with the highest fatal accident rates include the second-highest Chevrolet Corvette, the sixth-highest Subaru BRZ, the seventh-highest Nissan 370Z, the tenth-highest Dodge Challenger, the eleventh-highest Chevrolet Camaro, and the thirteenth-highest Hyundai-Veloster Turbo. “Luxury sports cars such as the Chevrolet Corvette and the Nissan 370Z do not undergo crash safety tests and are not assigned safety ratings,” said Ly. “Of the non-luxury sports cars, the Hyundai Veloster Turbo and the Dodge Challenger earned a marginal rating on the IIHS small overlap front driver crash test, while the Subaru BRZ and the Chevrolet Camaro were above average across all crash test categories.”

Similar to subcompact cars, sports cars do not typically have advanced safety features beyond a rearview camera. The exceptions are the Dodge Challenger and the Chevrolet Camaro, which do have advanced safety features on certain trims including forward collision warning in the Challenger, rear-cross traffic and rear parking sensors in the Camaro, and blind spot monitoring in both models.

Two compact Kias round out the list of vehicles with the highest fatal accident rates including the fourth-highest Kia Forte and the twelfth-highest Kia Soul. Each vehicle has earned the “Top Safety Pick” designation from IIHS. “In crash tests, the Soul had positive ratings, while the Forte earned the lowest possible rating of ‘poor’ in the Institute’s passenger side safety test,” noted Ly. “These vehicles’ fatal accident rates show that no matter how safe a vehicle has been designed to be, it may not be able to fully protect you from serious accidents.”

Fatal Accident Rates by Car Size

iSeeCars further analyzed the data to compare fatality rates across all car sizes.

Fatal Accident Rates by Passenger Car Size
Size Fatal Accident Rate (Cars per Billion Vehicle Miles)
Subcompact 4.5
Compact 3.8
Average for All Cars 3.3
Midsize 3.3
Large 2.6
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“When specifically looking at passenger cars, the fatal accident rate is inversely proportional to vehicle size,” said Ly. “Passenger cars also have a higher fatal accident rate than trucks and SUVs, which are larger vehicles.”

SUVs Most Frequently Involved in Fatal Accidents

iSeeCars examined the data to determine the SUVs that are most frequently involved in fatal accidents. The average SUV has a fatal accident rate of 1.7 cars per billion vehicle miles. The 10 SUVs most commonly involved in fatal accidents are at least 1.5 times more likely than the average SUV to be involved in a fatal accident.  

iSeeCars - SUVs Most Frequently Involved in Fatal Accidents
Rank Vehicle Fatal Accident Rate (Cars per Billion Vehicle Miles)
1 Kia Sportage 3.8
2 Jeep Wrangler 3.6
3 Lincoln MKT 3.3
4 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 3.3
5 Buick Encore 3.2
6 Mitsubishi Outlander 3.2
7 Subaru Forester 3.2
8 Nissan Rogue 2.9
9 Honda CR-V 2.7
10 Chevrolet Equinox 2.5
Average for All SUVs 1.7
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While SUVs have a fatal accident rate that is 34 percent lower than the overall average, small SUVs tend to have higher fatal accident rates within the segment. Compact and subcompact SUVs account for nine of the 10 vehicles on the list of SUVs with the highest fatal accident rates, with the third-highest midsize Lincoln MKT as the only exception.

Six compact SUVs earn the distinction as the SUVs with the highest fatal accident rates including the highest overall Kia Sportage, the second-highest Jeep Wrangler, the sixth-highest Mitsubishi Outlander, the seventh-highest Subaru Forester, the eighth-highest Nissan Rogue, the ninth-highest Honda CR-V, and the tenth-highest Chevrolet Equinox. Similar to the compact cars on the overall list, many compact SUVs performed poorly in IIHS crash tests. The Kia Sportage earned a “poor” rating in the small overlap front test for its 2013 through 2016 model years before improving to a “good” rating in 2017. The Jeep Wrangler, which is notorious for being unsafe, consistently earned a “poor” rating for its side impact test and marginal ratings in the small overlap front and rear crash protection tests. The Nissan Rogue received the second-lowest rating of “marginal” in the passenger-side small overlap front test during the 2013 model year, which was upgraded to “good” in 2014, while the Honda CR-V earned the same “marginal” rating for the 2013 and 2014 model years before raising its score to “good” in 2015.

The Mitsubishi Outlander and the Chevrolet Equinox stand out as the only compact SUVs with consistently favorable crash test ratings while also receiving the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ designation. “Despite their stellar safety ratings, the Outlander and Equinox draw criticism for their lack of standard safety features,” said Ly.

The two subcompact SUVs with the highest fatality rates include the fourth-highest Mitsubishi Outlander Sport and the fifth-highest Buick Encore. Like their compact counterparts, the vehicles have earned below-average ratings in IIHS’ crash tests and lack standard safety features. “The Outlander Sport performed well in crash safety tests in its earlier models of the vehicles surveyed, but downgraded in 2016 with a marginal rating for the small overlap passenger side safety test,” said Ly. “Meanwhile the Encore earned a poor rating for the small overlap front test in its 2013 and 2014 models, which to its credit was improved in subsequent model years.”

Rounding out the list is the third-highest Lincoln MKT midsize SUV. “While the Lincoln MKT earns high IIHS overall safety scores, it is not tested for the front and passenger overlap, which are typically the tests where vehicles earn low ratings,” said Ly.

Pickup Trucks Most Frequently Involved in Fatal Accidents

iSeeCars examined the data to determine the light-duty pickup trucks with the highest fatality rates and found that five models fared above the segment average.

iSeeCars Light-Duty Pickup Trucks Most Frequently Involved in Fatal Accidents
Rank Vehicle Fatal Accident Rate (Cars per Billion Vehicle Miles)
1 Nissan Frontier 3.9
2 Ram Pickup 1500 2.6
3 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 2.5
4 Toyota Tacoma 2.3
5 Nissan Titan 2.3
Average for All Light-Duty Pickups 2.3
Download Table

The light-duty pickup with the highest fatal accident rate is the compact Nissan Frontier, which has a rate 1.7 times higher than the average pickup. “The Frontier has earned mixed results for its crash tests, with a marginal rating for the IIHS driver-side small overlap crash test for its 2017 model,” said Ly. “The Frontier also consistently earned three out of five stars in NHTSA’s rollover crash test.” It is joined by the fourth-highest Tacoma as the other compact pickup to have a higher-than-average fatality rate. “The Tacoma consistently earned marginal ratings for its IIHS roof strength crash test, and like the Frontier, has limited advanced safety features.”

Three full-size pickups that are above the segment average include the second-highest Ram Pickup 1500, the third-highest Chevrolet Silverado 1500, and the fifth-highest Nissan Titan. “The Ram Pickup 1500 consistently earned a marginal rating from IIHS for roof strength and small overlap frontal crash tests,” said Ly. “The Silverado 1500 also earned a marginal rating for roof strength, and the Nissan Titan earned a marginal rating for the small overlap frontal crash test.”

“If safety is the primary concern when selecting a vehicle, we recommend that shoppers look beyond a car’s overall crash test safety rating and consider the car’s performance in specific crash test categories as well as its available safety features,” said Ly. “By selecting a vehicle with favorable crash test ratings across the board as well as with active safety features, you are more likely to be protected in the case of a serious accident. However, these safety features aren’t a substitute for safe driving, which is your best defense from a vehicle fatality.”


iSeeCars analyzed fatality data from the U.S. Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). Only cars from model years 2013-2017 in crashes that resulted in occupant fatalities between 2012 and 2017 were included in the analysis. To adjust for exposure, the number of cars involved in a fatal crash were normalized by the total number of vehicle miles driven, which was estimated from iSeeCars’ data of over 25 million used car sales from model years 2013-2017 sold in 2013-2017. Heavy-duty trucks and vans, models not in production as of the 2019 model year or since the 2013/2014 model year, low-volume models, and models with fewer than 20 crashes with occupant fatalities were removed from further analysis.

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