SUVs Safer, Less Likely To Kill Others In Crashes, Study

September 28, 2011

Everyone knows that if you’re involved in a crash with an SUV and you’re in a smaller passenger car, your likelihood of serious injury or death is higher, right? Well, the laws of physics still do prevail, but a new study, found via TheCarConnection shows that, thanks to safety improvements in SUVs and pickup trucks, SUVs are safer today than 10 years ago, and less likely to kill others in crashes with them.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) took a look at one to four-year old SUVs, pickups and cars/minivans in 2000-2001 and 2008-2009 and compared the numbers of cars and minivan occupants killed in two-vehicle crashes with SUVs and pickups per million registered vehicle years.

The results showed that SUVs in the weight category of 3,000-3,499 pounds were involved in crashes that killed car and minivan occupants at a rate of 44 deaths per million registered vehicle years in 2000-2001. That rate dropped to 16, a decrease of nearly two-thirds, by 2008-2009.

During the same 2008-2009 time period, cars and minivans in the same weight category were involved in the deaths of occupants of other cars/minivans at a rate of 17 per million.

Reasons for vehicle safety improvements

Why the improvements? The short answer is new design of vehicles, stronger structures and side airbags.

SUVs are safer today because their front-end design allows their energy-absorbing structures to line up better with cars, thus reducing the bigger vehicles’ tendency to override cars in collisions. This change in alignment helps both vehicles manage crash energy and keep it away from vehicle occupants.

Car and minivan passengers, as well as passengers in all vehicles, are safer thanks to the increased head protection from head-protecting side airbags.

These two changes were the result of an effort by automakers, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the IIHS to address compatibility concerns about mismatched vehicles on U.S. roads. After a series of meetings in 2003, automakers agreed to the two changes. While the deadline for implementation was September 2009, many of the 2004-2008 vehicles were already in compliance. For example, 54 percent of 2004 SUVs and pickups complied with the front-end requirements, while 81 percent of 2007 models did.

Electronic stability control

Another IIHS finding from recently-calculated driver death rates for 2005-2008 models shows that drivers of SUVs are less likely to die in a crash, largely as a result of electronic stability control (ESC).

As of September 1, 2011, federal regulations require that all new light passenger vehicles include ESC as standard equipment.

See more on the IIHS study here.


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