Due to the newest vehicle designs, your chances of dying in a car accident have fallen by more than a third over the past three years, the latest statistics from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reveal. According to IIHS calculations, 7,700 fewer driver deaths occurred in 2012 alone (the latest statistical year) than if vehicles had remained the same since 1985. The chart below tells the story:

Chart 2
Driver deaths per millions Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

After estimating which factors might have impacted declining death rates between 1985 and 2012, Institute researchers suggest vehicle changes were the main source of declining risk from 1993 through 2006. These changes include improved structural designs, the addition of safety features, and an evolving mix of vehicle types. In fact, nine 2011 models showed driver death rates of zero. However, IIHS warns, the gap between the safest and riskiest models remains wide, as you can see from the two charts below:

Chart 1
Safest vehicles Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Chart 3
Unsafest vehicles Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

A Few Stats to Consider

What are the facts about dying in a car crash? Let’s begin with sex differences: More men than women die in motor vehicle crashes, with males between the ages of 20 and 24 and 85 and older having the highest crash deaths rates. Typically, men put in more time behind the wheel while also taking more risks than women.

A total of 33,561 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2012: 65 percent were passenger vehicle occupants, 14 percent were pedestrians, 14 percent were motorcyclists, two percent were bicyclists, and two percent were occupants of large trucks.

In 2012, the month of February had the lowest number of crash deaths, while half of all crash deaths occurred on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. The percentage of deaths involving speeding during 2012 was slightly higher on minor roads (38 percent) than on interstates and freeways (30 percent) or on other major roads (27 percent).

Other Safety Measures

While experts continue to look for the next big thing in vehicle safety, some non-experts continue to press for institution or, in some cases re-enforcement of tried and true safety measures, which are known to slash rates of vehicular deaths.

First on most lists is using safety belts. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says this is the single most effective way to reduce deaths and injuries in crashes, estimating safety belts saved 12,713 lives in 2009 alone. In 2012, more than half of drivers and passengers (13 or older) who died in a car crash were not belted.

Second on the list is lowering the speed limit. In 1995, Congress repealed the national maximum speed limit of 55 mph, despite its proven success in decreasing highway deaths. One study appearing in the American Journal of Public Health estimated that 12,545 deaths were attributed to increases in speed limits across the U.S. between 1995 and 2005. Additionally, the authors of the study found a three percent increase in road fatalities attributable to higher speed limits on all roads, with the highest increase on rural interstates (nine percent).

Third, NHTSA suggests helmet laws for all riders on motorcycles be instituted and enforced. Helmets are estimated to be 37 percent effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcycle drivers and 41 percent effective for motorcycle passengers.

Finally, sobriety checkpoints and cameras for automated enforcement also curb traffic law violations and so reduce accidents. In 2009 alone, running a red light killed an estimated 676 people and injured 130,000 more.