SUVs – Sport Utility Vehicles – are more popular than ever. Ownership of SUVs increased dramatically by 250% in the United States from 1995 to 2002 as many people, especially families, were seduced into buying an SUV partly in the belief that bigger meant safer.
If you are thinking of buying an SUV, there is good news and bad news as far as safety is concerned. In general an SUV is more than twice as likely to roll over in an accident as a car. Children are especially at risk, they are three times more likely to be injured in an SUV rollover accident than if they were in a car.
And contrary to popular belief, the more weight that an SUV carries, the higher the chance of an accident. Most SUVs are designed – and owners are encouraged – to carry extra weight in the form of extra passengers and cargo, whether it is on the road or off the road. One way to minimize the risk of a rollover if you do drive an SUV is to drive with less weight.
In 2004 (the most recent year with data available) rollover accidents killed just over 10,000 people in the United States. Rollovers are actually rare (less than 3% of all car crashes) but they are responsible for around 30% of all traffic related fatalities. However, rollovers are particularly serious types of accident as they often result in head injuries, or passengers being thrown from vehicles.
The good news is that SUVs are currently safer than ever, a trend that seems certain to continue. An increasing number of SUVs are being made with electronic stability control which dramatically decreases the chance of an accident. This may become a requirement in the next few years.
Manufacturers are also making more so-called car-based SUVs, vehicles that combine the appearance of a car and an SUV. These usually ride closer to the ground than regular SUVs and are therefore significantly safer. And at least fifteen major car manufacturers have agreed that by 2009, all their SUVs would be built lower to the ground, saving an estimated 600 to 800 lives every year.
Other safety features are being introduced. Newer SUVs now have rollover air bags, designed specifically to protect passengers from injury during a rollover. A sensing device will detect a rollover and trigger an airbag to inflate, usually on the side of the vehicle, at the same time tightening the seat belts.
If you are still interested in an SUV, choose your model carefully. Cost, features, and gas mileage will all influence your purchase, but safety should also play an important part in deciding which make and model to buy. Many automotive web sites offer unbiased reviews of SUVs and their safety rating.
Give some thought as to whether you really need an SUV. Statistics show that fewer than 5% of owners will actually use their SUV off the road. A car or minivan may suit your needs just as well, and will usually cost less.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published rankings for 2006 which show which SUVs are most and least likely to rollover in an accident. The figures are based on the chances of a rollover in a single vehicle accident, they don’t take in to account multi-vehicle accidents. The figures also don’t take into account what causes the accident in the first place.
The least likely models to rollover are the Chevrolet HHR, Ford Freestyle and Chrysler Pacifica. The models most likely to rollover are the Nissan Xterra and the Chevrolet Avalanche along with several other models hovering just behind these two as far as the rankings are concerned.
Car manufacturers are understandably concerned with these rankings, the cost in financial terms and buyer confidence is enormous. There have been a spate of vehicle recalls over the last few years; one of the most far-reaching was by Ford in 2003, recalling almost 1.7 million Explorers and Mercury Mountaineers. And Toyota recalled almost a million SUVs in 2005 because of a defect that could possibly affect the ability to steer the vehicle.
So before you buy your next SUV, do a little research. It may just save your life if you are involved in an accident.