Through the first nine months of last year, an estimated 31,785 Americans died in driving accidents. This figures come from the most recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, released this January. The country is on track to come close to the 42,915 motor vehicle fatalities in 2021, which was the highest annual total since 2005.
While the increase is concerning, auto fatalities have actually become far less common over the years, relative to miles driven, thanks to improvements in both vehicle and highway safety standards.
There were 1.33 auto fatalities per 100,000 vehicle miles traveled in 2021, a fraction of the annual rate in the era prior to seat belt installations and laws requiring their use. For example, in 1967, the year before seat belts became mandatory in vehicles, there were 5.26 fatalities per 100,000 miles traveled. (This is the deadliest year for car wrecks since seat belts became law.)
Vehicles sold today are, on the whole, relatively safe thanks to technological improvements such as collision avoidance, anti-lock brakes, smart airbags, and adaptive headlights. Still, there have been a few rare cars sold in the United States in recent years that have received subpar scores on major safety tests.
The NHTSA, a federal agency, rates thousands of sedans, wagons, pickup trucks, SUVs, and vans. The agency’s 5-star rating system scores each model for frontal crash, side crash, and rollover safety. The NHTSA also assigns a 1 to 5 star rating to each model for its overall safety rating. While recent model years generally rate high, in previous model years, a number of vehicles received 2 or 3 stars. (These are the vehicles involved in the most fatal crashes.)
24/7 Wall St. listed all 35 examples of models the NHTSA gave an overall safety rating of 2 or 3 stars from 2011 or later model years. 2011 was the first year the NHTSA began issuing a more rigorous set of tests and safety standards. In some cases, different versions of a particular model received different scores. In those cases, we listed the lowest-rated model. The cars are grouped by model year but are otherwise in no specific order. If two models from different years received the exact same score, both years were listed.
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