An insurance industry research group has judged the midsize Volvo 240 station wagon the safest car in America.

The Chevrolet Corvette had the highest death rate per 10,000 registered cars, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said Tuesday in a report that affirmed the long-standing conclusion of many researchers that larger cars are safer than smaller cars.The institute checked the reported death rates for the 134 most popular 1984-1988 model cars on U.S. roads during the years 1985 through 1989.

Of the 14 cars registering the lowest death rates, it said five were large, seven midsize and only two small. Nine of the 13 cars with the highest death rates were small, four midsize and none large.

The institute said death rates vary not only by size but within car size and body style groups.

Large station wagons, large two-door cars and large luxury cars registered the lowest death rates. The highest death rates were recorded by midsize sports cars.

Driver age was also important in determining death rates. The institute said drivers under 30 tended to have higher death rates.

And it said that cars with high percentages of female drivers tended to have lower death rates than for cars largely driven by men.

The institute noted that most models studied were not equipped with automatic seat belts or air bags.

Five of the cars with the highest death rates were Chevrolets.

"GM long has known that larger, heavier vehicles fare better in a collision than smaller ones," said Jack Dinan, a spokesman for the automaker.

He said many Chevrolets on the list were involved in single-vehicle accidents "while being driven by younger males."

And he said air bags now are installed on the driver's side of all of the cars listed except the discontinued four-door Sprint and the discontinued Pontiac Fierro.

The Corvette got the air bag in the 1990 model and the other cars on the risk list received them in the 1991 model year.

He said there also have been a number of changes in the driveability and strength of the cars on the risk list that would enhance their safety.

According to the institute, these are the cars with the highest death rates, stated as occupant deaths per 10,000 cars.

The Chevrolet Corvette Coupe, 4.7; Chevrolet Sprint four-door, 4.5; Chevrolet Sprint two-door, 4.3; Chevrolet Camaro, 4.3; Ford Mustang, 4.3; Ford Mustang convertible, 4.0; Nissan 300ZX, 4.0; Yugo two-door, 3.6; Chevrolet Spectrum two-door, 3.5; Pontiac Fiero, 3.5; Hyundai Excel-Mitsubishi Precis two-door, 3.3; Pontiac Firebird, 3.2 and Ford Escort two-door, 3.1

The cars with the lowest death rates were:

The Volvo 240 station wagon, 0.5; Saab 900 four-door, 0.6; Volkswagen Vanagon, 0.6; Olds Cutlass Cruiser station wagon, 0.7; Pontiac Safari-Paisienne station wagon, 0.7; Volvo 740-760 four-door, 0.7; Mercury Grand Marquis station wagon, 0.8; Honda Accord two-door, 0.8; Audi 5000 four-door, 0.9; Lincoln Town Car, 0.9; Mercedes SDL-SEL series, 0.9 and the Toyota Cressida four-door, 0.9.