Motorists in crashes are most likely to die in mid-size sport-utility vehicles, light pickups and small four-door sedans, the Washington Post reported, citing a United States government study released on Tuesday.

The paper said the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration study also concluded that reducing the weight of such vehicles increases the risk of a fatal crash - a finding disputed by consumer groups that say the motor industry will use it to justify resisting higher fuel-efficiency standards.

The Washington Post noted that the study was an update of a 1997 report about the role of vehicle weight in fatal crashes, looked at 1991-99 model-year vehicles and found that large four-door sedans and minivans had the lowest overall fatality rates. It also showed that reducing the weight of the largest cars, trucks and vans had little effect on safety, the paper added.

The new study reaffirmed that lesser weight in smaller and mid-size vehicles leads to greater risk, the Washington Post said.

The paper said vehicle makers used the earlier results to argue against government efforts to increase fuel efficiency standards, saying vehicles would have to be lighter to meet higher mileage requirements.

Gloria Bergquist, spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, told the Washington Post the new study emphasises the need to balance safety with economy while Joan Claybrook of the consumer group Public Citizen said the study is flawed: "NHTSA fails to take into account that decades of engineering studies show that increasing the weight of large vehicles is bad for overall highway safety because it increases the disparity in weight between vehicles on the road."

Claybrook said that car makers can use technology instead of weight reduction to increase fuel efficiency, according to the Washington Post.

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