2011 Chevrolet Equinox LTZEnlarge Photo
Is your family safer and more secure in a sedan or an SUV? For years, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has advised that the safest vehicle choice is a vehicle that's moderately heavy yet low—like a medium to large sedan. But based on the latest findings from the IIHS, that recommendation might soon change.
The agency now reports that due to design changes and standard electronic stability control on all utility-vehicle models, drivers of newer SUVs are among the least likely to die in a crash—and they're overall safer than cars because of the greater protection their weight and size provides in frontal and side crashes.
"The rollover risk in SUVs used to outweigh their size/weight advantage, but that's no longer the case, thanks to
ESC," said IIHS senior VP for research, Anne McCartt.
In an analysis of the effects of stability control, the IIHS found that it makes the biggest difference in vehicles that had the highest insurance losses to begin with. That said, the impact of ESC is amazing—with overall risk cut by 33 percent, for both cars and SUVs and a 73-percent reduction in the risk of a single-vehicle rollover.
Between cars and SUVs of the same weight, SUVs now statistically have a pretty significant safety advantage. In terms of driver deaths per million registered vehicle years (based on 2005-2008 models), among vehicles weighing between 3,501 and 4,000 pounds, for instance, SUVs (like the had a rate of 30 versus cars' much higher rate of 41.
"It's not just weight that gives SUVs an advantage. It's also their height and other factors. When cars and SUVs of similar weight are compared, the SUVs have lower death rates."
And it makes sense that at least in frontal and side impacts, having more surface area would help. According to the IIHS, all but three of the 26 vehicles with the lowest death rates are mid-size or larger, yet more than half of the models with the highest death rates are small vehicles or minicars.
However, these results should be considered with much caution if you're buying a used SUV. If it's more than a few years old, it potentially doesn't include electronic stability control and then the old advice would hold.