Side airbags like the ones in the Chevrolet Cruze, make cars safer.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety announced that occupants in minivans and cars are less likely to die in an accident with SUVs and trucks. The IIHS says better crash protection, such as side airbags and stronger structures in minivans and cars, and improved designs in SUVs and trucks, have contributed to the decrease.

The IIHS compared vehicles that were one to four years old in 2000 and 2001 and vehicles that were one to four years old in 2008 and 2009. The IIHS discovered that in crashes with minivans/cars and SUVs, the death rate was 44 deaths per million registered vehicles between 2000 to 2001. Under the same conditions, that rate dropped to 16 between 2008 to 2009.

This decrease of two-thirds is ground-breaking because in crashes with only minivans and cars, the death rate was 17 per million registered vehicles from 2008 to 2009.

Lowering the death rate required the collaboration between the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and automakers. “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asked automakers to address the compatibility issue amid concern about the changing vehicle mix on U.S. roads,” the IIHS says in its press release. “In response, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Association of Global Automakers, and the Institute led a series of meetings in 2003 to come up with solutions.” Sixteen automakers attended, including Volkswagen, Hyundai, Honda and the Big Three (General Motors, Chrysler and Ford).

To make cars and SUVs safer, the automakers agreed to do two things. They added more side airbags to small cars for better head protection. They also made the front ends of small vehicles and SUVs more compatible by building “the front ends of SUVs and pickups so that their energy-absorbing structures would line up better with those of cars, reducing the likelihood that an SUV or pickup would override a car in a collision.”

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