GM: Rollover airbags standard on all models by 2012

GM: Rollover airbags standard on all models by 2012

SUVs, once notoriously dangerous due to their tendency to rollover at high speeds, are now among the safest vehicles to travel in when fitted with the latest generation of electronic stability control systems, rollover mitigation technology and reinforced roofs.

The finding is based on research conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which compared statistics of driver death rates over the years.

The institute looked at the period between 2006 and 2009 and found that the number of driver deaths per million registered vehicles--of all types--was 48. This represents a decline of 39 percent from the 79 per million vehicles identified in a similar study conducted back in 2007, showing a marked improvement in safety for the auto industry.

However, while this shows that vehicles across the board have been getting safer, the results become all the more interesting when you look at and compare individual segments. Here researchers found that in the SUV segment, the number of driver deaths per million registered vehicles fell from 65 in the 2007 study to just 28 in the most recent one--easily the most dramatic decline in any segment for overall death rates. 

By comparison, there were 56 driver deaths per million registered vehicles for cars and 52 per million registered vehicles for pickups in the latest study. The safest segment, meanwhile, remains minivans, which resulted in just 25 driver deaths per million registered vehicles.

Interestingly, the study even looked at individual vehicles, finding the Nissan 350Z to have the highest number of driver deaths with a tally of 143. 

The study found that electronic stability control, in particular, reduced the risk of a fatal crash, especially in SUVs. Combine this with technology found in many luxury SUVs designed to predict rollovers and help protect vehicle occupants before a crash occurs, and it’s easy to see why the institute is now in praise of the tall-riding models.

In fact, the institute no longer recommends parents avoid purchasing SUVs for novice teen drivers, which it did as recently as 2007 due to the poor safety record for such vehicles in the past.

Follow the jump below to look at a report on the findings published by the IIHS.