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I think it is fair to argue that the safest vehicles on the road today are ones with the lowest death rates.

If that's your yardstick, put the Audi A6 and the Mercedes Benz E-Class luxury cars on your list of the safest cars. Also include the Toyota Sienna minivan, the Ford Edge SUV, Nissan's Armada SUV, the Land Rover Sport and LR3, and the Lexus GX 470 SUV.

One safety feature all these vehicles have in common is electronic stability control (ESC). The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which today released a report on driver death rates for passenger vehicles from 2005-2008, credits ESC for preventing rollover accidents that lead to fatalities.

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And because of the widespread introduction of ESC, tall vehicles such as SUVs are now safer than regular passenger cars thanks to the reduced rollover risk.

"The rollover risk in SUVs used to outweigh their size/weight advantage, but that's no longer the case," Anne McCartt, the Arlington, Va.-based group's senior vice president for research, said in the report.

"It's not just weight that gives SUVs an advantage. It's also their height and other factors. When cars and SUVs of similar weight are compared, the SUVs have lower death rates."

SUVs, then, are safer than cars because they are bigger and heavier and thanks to ESC they are less likely to roll over.

Which vehicles are among the least safe? The Nissan 350Z sports car, the Titan pickup and Chevrolet's Aveo and Cobalt small cars did not fare well. Drivers of these vehicles, notes the report, are more likely to die in accidents than those of other vehicles.

Keep in mind that none of the 26 lowest-rated vehicles had standard electronic stability control, while almost all of the top-rated ones did, the study found.

Here is the takeaway, then: ESC is a life-saver. If you want the safest car or light truck possible, get one with ESC.

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Top 10 Safest Vehicles: These vehicles had the lowest rates of driver deaths

(2005-08 models during calendar years 2006-09)

Audi A6 4-door 4WD

luxury car

large

Mercedes-Benz E-Class 4-door 4WD

luxury car

large

Toyota Sienna

minivan

very large

Ford Edge

4WD SUV

mid-size

Nissan Armada

4WD

SUV large

Land Rover Range Rover Sport

4WD

SUV large

Land Rover LR3

4WD SUV

large

Honda CR-V

4WD SUV

small

Jeep Grand Cherokee

4WD SUV

mid-size

Acura MDX

4WD SUV

mid-size



Top 10: Vehicles with the highest rates of driver deaths

Nissan 350Z

2-door sports car

mid-size

Nissan Titan crew cab

2WD pickup

large

Chevrolet Aveo

4-door car

mini

Chevrolet Cobalt

4-door car

small

Nissan Titan extended cab

2WD pickup

large

Kia Spectra

station wagon

small

Chevrolet Malibu Classic

4-door car

mid-size

Hyundai Tiburon

2-door car

small

Nissan Versa

4-door car

small

Chevrolet Colorado extended cab

2WD pickup

small



For the full report, click here. http://www.iihs.org/externaldata/srdata/docs/sr4605.pdf

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More

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