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When you stroll around a Charleston car lot, you’ll find a variety of vehicles large and small. While Americans are increasingly opting for larger vehicles such as SUVs and pick-up trucks, there are certainly some selling points for small cars. They often get better gas mileage than bigger vehicles, plus they’re easier to maneuver and park, and they often cost less to drive, too.

Safety’s missing

However, there’s an important item missing from that list: safety. In a motor vehicle crash, the smallest cars are the most dangerous, according to a recent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study of driver fatality rates.

The IIHS senior vice president of vehicle research said, “Smaller vehicles offer less protection for the driver in crashes, and their lighter mass means that they take the brunt of collisions with larger vehicles.”

Comparing the extremes

Very large SUVs are at the very opposite of the safety spectrum from minicars. The SUV behemoths have the lowest overall fatality rate: 15 deaths per million registered vehicle years. Minicars’ death rate is more than five times higher: 82.

The average driver fatality rate for all 2017 models was 36, signaling a trend in the wrong direction. The driver fatality rate for 2014 models was 30, which was up from the rate for 2011 models: 28.

It should be noted that the IIHS vehicle safety study was of the four-year period from 2015 to 2018.

Wrong-way trend

For that period, there were 147,324 auto accident fatalities in the U.S., up from 134,905 from 2012 to 2015 – another trend going in the wrong direction.

A recent news article pointed out that “the (driver) death rates for 2017 models vary widely from 0 for seven models to 141 for the worst performer.” The vehicle with the very worst rating? The 2017 Ford Fiesta.

Safety perfection

The seven 2017 models with perfect safety scores were the GMC Yukon XL 1500, Infiniti QX60, Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Lexus NX 200t, Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan, Porsche Cayenne and the Lexus GX 460 4WD. The only small car on the list is the four-door Volkswagen Golf.

IIHS rates include only drivers because all vehicles have drivers, but not all have passengers (or the same number of passengers).

Of course, regardless of the size of the vehicle, the most important factor in assessing the risks of crashes, injuries and fatalities is the person behind the wheel. As you drive around Charleston, please do so cautiously and safely.