Muscle Cars, Small Cars Linked to Higher Risk of Car Crash Deaths: Report

Safety experts warn that small cars and "muscle" cars do not provide as much protection as larger frame vehicles, resulting in increased car accident deaths for drivers.

Muscle cars with high engine power and small cars rank among the deadliest vehicles on the road, according to a recent report that examines the impact of different vehicle designs on the risk of a car accident fatality.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) published the findings this month, indicating that six of the 21 vehicles with the highest driver death rates are muscle cars. Eight others are small cars or minicars, according to the report.

Out of all 2020 and equivalent vehicle models surveyed for the study, variants of the Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, Dodge Charger, and Ford Mustang ranked among the highest driver death rates. However, two Mitsubishi Mirage models, which are defined as minicars, topped the list.

Muscle Car and Compact Car Accident Risks

Roadway safety experts define muscle cars as any intermediate-sized, high-performance oriented American made 2 door sports coupes, powered by a large V8 engine. They theorize that the sleek designs and increased engine power of small, sporty vehicles and muscle cars encourage drivers to take more risks on the road, such as speeding.

That kind of risky driver behavior can place all motorists in danger, safety experts warn. Recent statistics suggest speeding is a significant threat to U.S. motorists, accounting for 29% of all car accident related fatalities nationwide in 2021.

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In this new vehicle safety study, IIHS officials examined driver crash death rates involving 2020 model vehicles, and some earlier models as far back as 2017, which were equipped with the same designs and features. To be included in the study, a vehicle model had to have at least 100,000 registered vehicle years or at least 20 deaths during the four-year study period.

IIHS researchers determined two compact cars, the Mitsubishi Mirage G4 and Mitsubishi Mirage hatchback, had the highest rates of driver deaths linked to auto accidents. IIHS data linked the vehicles to 205 and 183 deaths per million registered vehicle years, respectively.

The Dodge Challenger 2WD, a muscle car, was the third deadliest vehicle, with 154 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years. Also among the top deadliest vehicles was the Dodge Charger HEMI 2WD, another muscle car variant. The IIHS data associated that vehicle with 118 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years.

The list also included the Chevrolet Camaro convertible, a high engine, sporty muscle car, and the Ford Mustang convertible, another larger frame muscle car. Those vehicles showed 113 driver deaths and 97 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years, respectively.

This data is similar to previous research that has highlighted risks associated with subcompact cars and vehicles with high engine power, which are more likely to be involved in a fatal accident. A 2019 study listed the Mitsubishi mirage, Chevrolet Corvette, and similar small or high power vehicles as most dangerous on U.S. roadways.

IIHS officials concluded that high engine power and subcompact, sporty cars encourage drivers to take more risks on the road. Those vehicles typically don’t provide as much protection as larger frame vehicles like SUVs and trucks, they noted, resulting in increased fatal crash risks for their drivers.

“We typically find that smaller vehicles have high driver death rates because they don’t provide as much protection, especially in crashes with larger, heavier SUVs and pickups,” IIHS President David Harkey wrote in a press release. “The muscle cars on this list highlight that a vehicle’s image and how it is marketed can also contribute to crash risk.


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