The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has published a useful brochure - easy to read - regarding safety as a factor or criteria which should play an important role in your decision to purchase a new vehicle in 2011.
The information contained in the brochure correctly states that safety factors are numerous and can thus "add up" in different ways; still, some vehicles are much safer than others all things considered.
Safety criteria are typically broken down into two broad categories: (1) crash avoidance and (2) protection in a crash. In the former category are things like electronic stability control, but coming soon to a dealer near you are cars with sensors which alert you if you stray from your lane or are too close to the car in front of you. In the latter category are features such as protective "occupant compartment (safety cage)" and "crumple zones to absorb the force of a serious crash." What's called "roof crush" is also an important feature of safety once an accident has occurred, especially those accidents involving a vehicle rollover, either in multi-vehicle or single vehicle accidents. The IIHS states: "To earn a good rating, a roof must withstand a force 4 times the vehicle’s weight before reaching 5 inches of crush. A roof this strong reduces injury risk in a single-vehicle rollover by about 50 percent, compared with a roof meeting only minimum safety requirements."
See the entire brochure here.
So, resolve to add safety to your new car buying criteria, and consider that style, color, power and mpg should not trump safety.