21 August 2004

SUVs are not safer

There is a folk belief that SUVs are safer than regular cars. The opposite it true.

Via Kevin Drum, I have for instance this New York Times story.

If you're a Salon subscriber, check out their interview with Keith Bradsher, the author of High and Mighty.

As a class there is no question that SUVs are less safe in terms of rollovers than cars are. If you look at the federal government's rollover ratings, there are no pickup-based SUVs that get more than three stars on a scale of one to five. Full-size cars get five stars, minivans get four stars.

They partially make up the difference by killing the other guy in vehicle-to-vehicle crashes, but they don't do well enough in vehicle-to-vehicle crashes to offset the rollovers. People have a myth about the rollovers, which makes matters worse. Everyone thinks that rollovers happen to bad drivers and no one thinks he is a bad driver. And so as a result people underestimate the risk that they are going to make a mistake that results in a rollover. They don't understand that 90 percent of rollovers occur not because somebody's zig-zagging on a paved road but because the vehicle was tripped — whether by striking a guardrail or a curb or a low-riding vehicle.
SUVs are very dangerous to other motorists because they are particularly likely to slide over the bumpers and doorsills of the cars and into the passenger compartments. [Car manufacturers] have begun addressing this over the last two or three years -- three-quarters of the SUVs on the market have been modified. They've mainly done it by installing hollow steel bars below and behind the bumper. They're called Bradsher bars actually. These bars are designed to prevent the SUV from going into the passenger compartment.

The problem is that you still have hoods that are too high on these SUVs, and in a side impact, the taller the hood, the more likely it is to catch somebody in the head or in the neck in a car. I describe one very sad case in the book of somebody that was hit in the head by a Land Rover that struck her from the side while she was in a midsize sedan.

The single most terrifying safety issue with SUVs is SUVs falling into the hands of teens. It's so sad for these teens to get paralyzed. The young drivers are the ones who are most likely to make the errors of inexperience like hitting a curb. Yes, you can roll over a Corvette if you slide it into a curb fast enough and hard enough, but you're much less likely to do so. Same with a guardrail. Same with getting a vehicle onto the shoulder. The SUVs are much less forgiving of error. Teens make the most driver errors, and those are particularly likely to be errors that are single-vehicle accidents.

Oh, and they're bad for the environment, too.

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