Safety officials cite new designs for SUVs that are less damaging when colliding with cars and minivans.

When large, truck-based SUVs collide with passenger cars or minivans, the results can be devastating for the occupants of the latter.

But fatalities in such accidents are on the decrease in the United States thanks to measures employed by automakers. Traffic deaths are down 64 percent since the year 2000 due to changes in automobile design such as lower bumpers for SUVs and better-protected cabin cells for passenger cars.

In 2000, the death rate for car and minivan passengers in collisions with trucks or SUVs was 44 deaths per million. That came down to 16 deaths per million by 2009.

The study was conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a private-sector group based in Arlington, Virginia.

"By working together, the automakers got life-saving changes done quickly," said Joe Nolan, the institute's chief administrative officer.

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