By on April 23, 2007

06_07_4runner_ltd2.jpgSo here we are, trying to convince American motorists to abandon their SUV’s for smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles, to do their bit to reduce global warming and eliminate the need for messy military entanglements. And along comes a scientific study from a reputable independent organization that concludes that you’re safer in an SUV than a passenger car. Nuts.

You remember that debate, don’t you? Back before carbon dioxide was a planet killer, before hurricane Katrina sent the price of gas soaring, before the Iraq war got old, the anti-SUV crowd focused their attention on safety. They highlighted the “us vs. them” SUV vs. car death match, where the guy with the morally indefensible vehicle won the right to play again. Which was unfair but true. And still is.   

Last Thursday, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) released the results of a study examining death rates for drivers of 2001 to 2004 model year vehicles involved in crashes from 2002 through 2005. The results were rated by deaths per million vehicle years (DMVY).

The IIHS’ separated the vehicles into eight categories: cars, sports, luxury, specialty, station wagons, minivans, SUV’s and pickup trucks. The “deaths by body style” stats were conclusive. According to the report, large and mid-sized 4WD vehicles (47 and 59 DMVY) are safer than cars classified as mini (148), small (103), midsize (71), large (81) and very large (61).

The IIHS report also listed the vehicles with the highest and lowest driver death rates. Of the 16 “worst” vehicles rated, cars occupied 12 slots, while SUV’s garnered four places on the list (a 75 / 25 percent split). Of the 15 “best” vehicles, five cars (33 percent), seven SUV’s (47 percent) and three minivans (20 percent) made the grade. 

That said, the IIHS study rated both small and very large SUV’s appreciably more deadly than mid-sized and large SUV’s. And there are as many ways to spin interpret the IIHS data as there are media outlets happy to avoid the logical, distinctly non-PC headline “SUV’s Safer than Cars.”

CBS News compared the "death rates in passenger vehicles with similar weight" and came to a different conclusion: "Cars Still Beat SUV's In Safety." The Detroit News report avoided any SUV vs. car comparisons. Reuters touted the Ford F-150’s huge safety gains. Consumer Reports focused on the importance of driver behavior, rather than vehicle design: 

“Care should be taken when evaluating this data because there are driver factors (such as demographics and region) that might greatly affect the fatality rates per model. We believe models that appeal to a more careful driver tend to have a lower fatality rate than those that attract a more risk-prone driver.”

While it's easy to understand how the Nissan 350Z made it on the IIHS black list, it’s hard to think of Kia drivers (Spectra fourth, Rio sixth) as “thrill seekers.” No, the simple, unavoidable, inconvenient truth is that both the pro and anti-SUV campaigners were right: physics rule the day.

Corroboration comes via the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHSTA) 2005 crash stats. Measuring driver fatalities in all types of crashes, SUV's were 5.2 percent safer than passenger cars. And it’s no fluke. In 2003, SUV’s out-protected cars by 5.3 percent. In 2004, the figure climbed to 6.1 percent. In 2005, it rose to 6.6 percent.

Again, there are many ways to interpret the data. If you measure non-driver fatalities, or rollover crashes, the picture changes. But there’s plenty of evidence to confirm what common sense suggests. In 2005, SUV occupants were twice as safe as passenger car occupants in front, side and rear crashes. 

The safety gap is bound to widen. Thanks to rising gas prices and changing consumer tastes, inherently dangerous jumbo-sized SUV’s are either history (e.g. Ford Excursion) or fading fast (e.g. Chevrolet TrailBlazer). Buyers of full-sized SUV’s are migrating towards smaller, lower riding and safer car-based SUV’s (a.k.a. CUV’s). And NHTSA legislation mandating electronic stability control in all SUV’s will yield significant safety gains. 

None of this is good news for environmental campaigners, most of whom favor government intervention to “persuade” Americans drivers to exchange their SUV’s for small, frugal and more dangerous vehicles. Still, one should never underestimate the zealot’s power to surmount scientific results. If SUV’s were outlawed, there wouldn’t BE a safety gap. More people will die from global warming than small car crashes. Etc.

To a certain extent, the pro-conservation, anti-SUV crowd has already won this debate, as witnessed by the fact that so few media outlets are willing to raise the safety vs. fuel economy issue. Well, consider it raised.

[Click here for IIHS report or here for USA Today's simplified chart.]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

93 Comments on “IIHS and NHTSA Agree: SUV’s Safer Than Cars...”


  • avatar

    Ummm but if you are considering safety you have to consider rollover and single car accidents. It is hardly news that big stuff is more dangerous to little stuff, but all the various outlets always state that the combined operator safety gap isn’t there (over mid sized cars).

    It may get there eventually of course. But for the past 10 years if you want safety you buy a minivan and check all the little safety option boxes. No SUV is particularly impressive compared to that.

  • avatar
    jasonkohls

    No, the simple, unavoidable, inconvenient truth is that the anti-SUV campaigners were right: physics rule the day.

    I’d like to know what percentage of the crash data involved SUV-to-SUV collisions and how that would skew the fatality rates for SUVs.

  • avatar

    As the article states, there are plenty of ways to parse the stats. The IIHS reliance on driver fatality data (as opposed to overall fatalities) seems to indicate that it's the most reliable metric of relative vehicle safety. As for rollovers, we've dealt with that issue before. If you remove fatalities where passengers were not wearing seat belts, it's pretty much a car vs. SUV wash.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    We just took delivery of a politically incorrect mid-sized SUV, gladly paying the gas guzzler tax. Other than providing a spiffy funeral, money isn’t of much use if you’re dead.

  • avatar
    troonbop

    It’s tough to argue with the suv bumper to car window match up.

  • avatar

    The IIHS reliance on driver fatality data (as opposed to overall fatalities) seems to indicate that it’s the most reliable metric of relative vehicle safety.

    Ha, you haven’t worked in a stats office much. The report is focused on “The Risk of Dying in One Vehicle Against Another”, thus they used that for the key tables, because that is what the report is, not because of reliability

  • avatar

    If one were to select and purchase their vehicle based soley on which “crashes” better I guess we should all simply drive the vehicle at the top of the list.

    Better yet I simply try to avoid crashes

  • avatar
    philipwitak

    over the 35 years that i have been purchasing and operating automobiles, i have – in every instance – chosen smaller rather than larger vehicles [biggest of them all were two 5-series bmws] and tended to select smaller, more economical motors, when given any choice in the matter [all have had either four or six cylinders; manual transmissions; and none had more horsepower than the 265 found in my \'66 jaguar e-type coupe - which i ran from 1970 - 1973].

    and although i just drove a new cayman this past weekend [with the thought of replacing my ten-year-old boxster] i’ll probably end up keeping the 986 and purchasing a new smart fortwo instead, as a replacement for my 13-year-old bmw 318is with the 1.8 liter, four cylinder engine.

    so i choose ‘economy,’ for the benefit of the planet, all its inhabitants and my wallet – but essential elements of ‘safety’ almost always come along for the ride – in the form of active safety features derived directly from the design and performance capabilities of these vehicles. and from my own preoccupation with driving defensively.

  • avatar
    ejl

    “As for rollovers, we’ve dealt with that issue before. If you remove fatalities where passengers were not wearing seat belts, it’s pretty much a car vs. SUV wash.”

    Does that include relative frequency of rollovers?

    The fact that you might be more likely to survive an accident in an SUV needs to be balanced against whether or not you’re more likely to get into one in the first place.

    Passive safety is every bit as important as the active kind. I’ll take a maneuverable Evo (say) over a “safe” high-riding SUV any day.

  • avatar
    Bunter1

    As I looked through the results of this study another thing jumped out at me.
    Certain companies tended to have the better results in most categories and other were consistently in the lower half (peak results not withstanding).
    The range in most categories was so broad that some companies sedans consistently beat others SUV’s.
    Study avg. 79 deaths/million miles.
    I ran some averages for some brands.
    Toyota-28
    Honda-50
    Chevrolet-91
    Ford-90
    I was rather surprised, the spread seems very large, but I also have trouble believing that the average buyer for Toyota is three times as careful as the average Chevy or Ford buyer.
    And I rather think one would have to compare full line company to full line, compact to compact etc.
    Any thoughts?

  • avatar

    Here’s Bob Elton’s piece on SUV rollovers:

  • avatar
    dolo54

    I’m not sure what the point of this is… the logical conclusion of such a train of thought is that we all should be driving tanks filled with gelatin. Sure it’s completely asinine, and will make for an extremely slow commute as all our tanks attempt to negotiate the highways, but at least no one will die.

  • avatar

    dolo54:

    Any argument taken to its logical extreme is, logically enough, extreme.

    Most of us here understand the preeminent importance of active safety, especially driver training, skill and awareness. But most of us have also been hit “out of the blue”– or at least seen it happen.

    Think of it this way: what type of vehicle would you buy for your teenage daughter/son?

    Personally, I drive a small sports car (death on wheels) and a big ass minivan (to protect the kids).

  • avatar

    the implication that, if SUVs were outlawed, we’d all die at the (high) death rate of small cars is probably false. when two cars collide, a few people die. when two SUVs collide, a few more people die. when an SUV hits a car, even more people die, but they’re all in the car. reducing the number of SUVs would presumably reduce many of those deaths. the roads would be much safer if we were ALL driving smaller vehicles (other things being equal), since the accidents would be less serious with lighter vehicles involved. but for any individual, they’re personally safer driving an SUV (and risking others’ lives rather than their own). lots of people follow that logic, and we end up with everyone in bigger vehicles and all of us less safe. it’s a classic prisoner’s dilemma, and there’s no way out of it except to change the calculus of self-interest.

    this is not an argument that SUV drivers are selfish bastards, by the way. it’s natural to do what you can to minimize the risk to you and your loved ones. you can’t make policy based on the idea that people would sacrifice the potential safety of their children for the welfare of strangers or the environment.

  • avatar
    whitenose

    environmental campaigners, most of whom favor government intervention to “persuade” Americans drivers to exchange their SUV’s for small, frugal and more dangerous vehicles.

    Who is this ‘most’? Got any stats to back that assertion up? Is this some group of collective strawmen in Rush Limbaugh’s fevered, Viagra/cocaine cocktail-addled imagination?

  • avatar
    thetopdog

    It’s funny that you mention 20 somethings insuring Corvettes because I was shocked to find out how cheap insurance is for me (a 23 year old male with 2 minor speeding infractions) on a 2006 Corvette.

    I called up my insurance agent to find out how much the premium would increase over the 1999 Lexus GS400 I was driving before. When she said “$200″ I almost cried, wondering how I would be able to come up with an extra $200 a month for insurance. When she told me the increase was only $200 a year I could hardly believe it.

    I remember reading back in 2001 or something that the Camaro was more expensive to insure than the much faster Corvette, because Camaro drivers are typically younger and more reckless. I believe driver demographics are by far the most important factor influencing vehicle death rates, and the insurance companies seem to agree.

  • avatar
    whitenose

    Personally, I drive a small sports car (death on wheels) and a big ass minivan (to protect the kids).

    If you really believe that to be true, I urge you strongly to do away with the former, or find a safer substitute. The kids need you alive.

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    As opposed to the sterile arena of a controlled crash test, there are just too many things to take into account in the real world. Driver age/experience, center of gravity, tires, ESC, belts vs. no belts etc. Comparing apples to oranges is possible using the numbers – Z3 (58) vs. Excursion 103).

    The only death I personally know of in the past few years occurred in a single vehicle rollover, non-ESC 4 door Explorer without curtain airbags (’04), inexperienced driver over-correcting. nonbelted rear seat passenger (driver’s parent). Still very sad.

  • avatar
    ejl

    “Most of us here understand the preeminent importance of active safety, especially driver training, skill and awareness. But most of us have also been hit “out of the blue”– or at least seen it happen.”

    But the IIHS study, by looking only at average rates of driver death, doesn’t even tell you which vehicle is the best in an “out of the blue” accident.

    It may well be that some vehicle in the middle of the list (say) has the highest survival likelihood given that you’re in an accident. But that vehicle doesn’t appear at the top of the list because it significantly increases the likelihood of being in an accident (due to poor braking/maneuverability, e.g.). Conversely, some mid-list vehicle may be very good at keeping you out of a wreck but suffer from poorer results if you’re in one.

    So where does this leave the buyer? A poor, unskilled driver might want to maximize accident survivability (passive safety), but the IIHS study doesn’t tell you which vehicle does that. A skilled, careful driver might want to maximize accident avoidance (active safety), but, again, the best vehicle for this might not be high on the list.

    “Safest vehicle” is ambiguous. The IIHS defines it in terms of rates of driver death. But that’s not the only relevant way of defining it.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    Gardiner: Actually, if you bought a guzzling SUV you *didn’t* pay the gas guzzler tax. That’s a special tax only leveled at cars (as opposed to light trucks). That’s why a Mercedes Benz E55 station wagon (car) purchaser pays thousands extra penalty dollars at time of purchase while a Dodge Magnum SRT-8 (light truck) buyer doesn’t. One is a “car” but the other managed to get the “light truck” rating.

    Optic: right on. My thoughts exactly. I’d add that the government has been testing and forming requirements quite backwards. Each buyer of a vehicle has a self-interest to protect themselves. There is no reason that the government needs to have laws requiring a purchaser to buy a vehicle safe for the purchaser. Instead, the government needs to have standards and requirements that make sure the vehicle is reasonably safe for *other* vehicles on the road. This would include lower-placed headlights that aren’t bright enough to blind people, center of gravity and bumper height not aimed squarely at the windows of cars, and public parking restrictions that don’t allow huge trucks to create blind spots at intersections.

  • avatar
    kaisen

    when two cars collide, a few people die. when two SUVs collide, a few more people die. when an SUV hits a car, even more people die, but they’re all in the car. reducing the number of SUVs would presumably reduce many of those deaths.

    So you’re saying we should all drive motorcycles because there could only be one death per vehicle per accident? Sorry, that logic doesn’t sit well with me.

  • avatar
    kaisen

    So where does this leave the buyer? A poor, unskilled driver might want to maximize accident survivability (passive safety), but the IIHS study doesn’t tell you which vehicle does that. A skilled, careful driver might want to maximize accident avoidance (active safety), but, again, the best vehicle for this might not be high on the list.

    Unfortunately, most drivers consider themselves ‘skilled’, where few actually are. Heck, even Rainman was an excellent driver.

  • avatar
    HawaiiJim

    Wouldn’t it be great if an automaker came up with an innovative way to make small cars even safer than large cars and large SUVs in vehicle-to-vehicle collisions regardless of size and weight differential? Under those circumstances, I’d buy a subcompact in a minute. Prediction: that will be one of the achievements of the auto industry within 10 years. And maybe it could be done without simply wrapping the driver and passengers in packing materials.

  • avatar
    Hippo

    Looking over the IIHS #’s it seems that the really abysmal numbers are from US (2.5) small cars.
    Are they really such junk, or is it just that the people that buy them aren’t the brightest crayons in the box?

    Seems strange that a E class would be safer then a S class Mercedes?

    While very much a proponent of small cars, there is very little question in my mind that a vehicle against vehicle accident would be much more survivable in the typical full size truck or SUV in the real world though.
    Hard to get people out of them when you have a huge percentage of the drivers uninsured or underinsured, and many of them are illegal and/or don’t speak the language.

    Look at it this way, what type of vehicle would you put your daughters into?
    That’s the whole problem right there.

  • avatar
    Alex Rashev

    Wait a minute. Those stats are BS. I mean, they’re correct, but they have little actual value to us.

    Take the Cavalier with its near-highest death rates. What’s notable about the Cavalier? That’s right, it’s one of those few cars that under-25 people can RENT. It’s also the #1 car for driving schools. In both cases, the car racks up enormous amount of miles in a relatively short period of time, with pretty inexperienced drivers and rental-type careless driving. Lots of people killed, even though it’s not car’s fault.

    Compare it to a Mercedes S-class, which is usually driven by older gentlemen for very, very short distances. Hell yeah it gets low death rate, cause it’s not driven much. I bet DMC-12 would get a perfect score, cause people hardly drive them at all.

    IIRC one of the first Elises to hit the States was crashed head-on into a van. Entire front end smashed, up to the firewall. Yet, the driver simply opened the door and walked out. So much for a death trap.

    Here’s another thing about SUV’s and compacts: SUV’s get driven less, period. The better mileage you get, the more you drive, usually.

    I find deaths-per-mile stats to be far more useful.

  • avatar
    CliffG

    There is no question physics will always rule, so buying an SUV or a minivan for safety reasons is completely logical, but also completely unnecessary. If you are over 45 you spent your formative years bouncing around in the front and back seats unbuckled, un-booster seated, probably un-baby seated in virtual death traps. Hey, you’re still around? We live in an age in which cocooned safety and paranoia rule our lives (and certainly our legislatures). Get over it. I have two grown kids and they grew up in vehicles in which the largest was an Accord SW, and used to ride around in my FIAT Spyder (Oh the Horror!). Oh well, I commute every day on a motorcycle, so the IIHS basically views me as dead man walking anyway….

  • avatar

    whitenose: Find me ONE environmental campaigner who is not in favor of raising CAFE standards. The only way to meet tougher standards is to sell more small cars. Ipso facto. As for the safety debate, well, here are a couple of excerpts from the Sierra Club website: "Detroit opposes CAFE standards, claiming that they cannot make a safe, clean SUV. Contrary to the auto industry's arguments, CAFE standards don't dictate automobile size or safety. Design, not weight, is the key to both safety and fuel economy."  "SUVs give a false impression of safety. With their height and comparatively narrow tire-track width, SUVs handle and maneuver much less effectively than cars. Emergency swerves to avoid a crash can themselves lead to rollover accidents in SUVs, which are four times more likely to roll over in an accident." "SUVs are also more deadly to pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists than cars, in part because existing braking standards for SUVs are weaker than for cars."   Basically, the Sierra Club et al. focus on SUV rollover deaths and compatibility issues and take the "100 mpg carburetor" approach: the industry could build 30 or 40mpg SUV's if they were forced to. As both the IIHS and NTSA studies show, if you set aside the preposterous conspiracy theories, once again, the law of physics trumps all. Hey, don't get me wrong: I wish it didn't. I'm all for smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles. I simply believe that we need to understand the implications of our actions, apart from political concerns. 

  • avatar
    Hippo

    Well, I ride the bike daily also, but if you have a little car for when you need to transport stuff why buy junk? when you can have a pretty decent car like a Honda for almost the same money.

  • avatar
    lprocter1982

    I have a perfect compromise: Ford Crown Victoria. It’s safe, big, and gets decent mileage (up to 28mpg on the highway with the A/C on.) Safety, reliability, and decent gas consumption – perfect for a safety- and environment-crazed society.

  • avatar
    SLLTTAC

    In the studey, the Infinit G35 has the second lowest fatality rate. The Nissan 350Z has the third highest fatality rate. Because they are two variations of a single platform, I’d infer that the difference in rates is due to the drivers of these vehicles, not to the vehicles themselves.

  • avatar
    guyincognito

    I want to see the breakdown of how many car occupant deaths were caused by a collision with an SUV or by being forced from their intended path by an SUV. I think the perceived safety gap between cars and SUV’s is magnafied by the behavior of SUV drivers.

  • avatar
    Alex Rashev

    Once again, these stats have NOTHING to do with vehicles’ relative safety. They sholdn’t affect your vechicle choice. These studies are only good for post-purchase analysis (I just bought an F-body, I *MIGHT* be a dangerous man because Firebird and Camaro drivers die a lot). They tell a lot more about the driver than they do about the car.

    The simple truth is, most cars will let their passengers survive a 55mph head-on collision with a telephone pole. Once you go 70-80, there are only a few supercars that will let you walk away (relatively) uninjured. The margin is pretty thin.

    Sure, you could ride a motorcycle with knight’s armor on, and have a slightly higher survival chance. Nobody does it, though, and for a reason – a good fire suit protects you almost as well, and doesn’t weigh a ton. The extra margin is not worth the effort.

  • avatar
    chuckR

    Wouldn't be surprising that SUVs are gaining in relative safety as people move to car based SUVs and CUVs. Lower CGs, less ox-cart-like suspensions, fewer compromises required from the off-roading that nobody actually does, etc. Here's a link referencing some work by a Lawrence Berkley Labs scientist (a registered professional engineer). He looks at insurance loss data but weights fatal outcomes in both the driver's vehicle and the other vehicle. Theres a graphic that looks like its hacked out of a paper but it does show for vehicles from the late 90s that, overall, well engineered mid-sized and larger cars were safer than contemporary 90s SUVs both for the driver and the other driver in a two vehicle accident. I can't find a reference to a real technical paper of his that I read, but he makes no effort to separate out the drivers from the vehicles. How could he? Insurance companies rate cars and drivers not just one or the other – your car likely says something about how you drive. Also, as an FYI, Liberty Mutual rates two cars of interest as about the best in driver injury (in their quarterly mag the send me as one of their insured). The cars? – Porsche 911 series and Corvette – by the time you can afford them, the fires may be banked a little as a result of experience.

  • avatar
    NN

    I’m thinking most people drive SUV’s slower because they handle less securely. This, plus the better visibility, increases their safety. I have driven SUV’s six out of the 12 years I have been driving. I have received six traffic violations and been in three accidents in all those years. All of the traffic infractions, and all of the accidents, took place while I was driving a car. I may drive like an old man in my SUV, but that’s because it doesn’t feel so secure going fast around corners, or changing lanes like a damn banshee, etc.

  • avatar
    Luther

    “physics rule the day.”

    Boy, thats rare. Rare that the broadcast media would deliberatly lie because of bogus environmental[ist] “concerns”. PC = Insanity.

    All this makes me want to buy an SUV not because I want one or that they are safer…I have this overwhelming desire to pissoff the environmentalist/news media fools. Maybe place a “Gaia Is My Co-Pilot” bumper sticker on the thing just for added enjoyment.

  • avatar
    rd4

    Robert, et.al- Your coverage of the IIHS data is accurate as compared to the CBS headline: "Bigger Not Better When It Comes To Auto Safety" Unbelievable – that's the total opposite of what the IIHS report, and ours from SUV Owners of America – http://www.suvoa.com – – says. Responding more specifically to some of the posters here: rollovers are usually very deadly but they are less than 5% of all fatal crashes. So to determine the crashworthiness of a vehicle type one should look at driver fatalities (as IIHS did) in all crash modes not just one kind of crash. You can't repeal the laws of physics: all things being equal, a larger vehicle is more protective of its occupants than a smaller one. And also remember to keep the star crash ratings in perspective – they only tell you how well a vehicle does head on against another vehicle of similar size and weight. I'd rather be in a 4-star SUV hitting head on with a 5-star Honda Civic! And one last point (for those that are compelled to rail against SUVs) in crashes between LTVs (includes SUVs) and passenger cars the deaths in the cars have been going down over the past few years. So that tells you that there is not a huge crisis with all of these larger vehicles entering the fleet. Ron DeFore Communication Director SUV Owners of America

  • avatar
    AndyR

    Given all this cross-talk between drivers vs. cars being the determinants of relative safety, I wonder if there’s a way to put this on better footing… As several people have pointed out, the NHTSA/IIHS numbers (unless they’ve been corrected for this) don’t account for number of vehicles on the road… What I would like to see is a crashes per 1000 vehicles sold (or similarly, fatalities per 1000 vehicles sold). These statistics combined would give a much better picture of the value supposedly inherent in driving a big ol’ car. My hypothesis: An Expedition might not crumple up into a little ball, but it’s more likely to get itself into an accident with poor handling, top-heaviness, etc. Anyone have these numbers?

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    Well maybe the IIHS should throw an Abrams tank into the mix; one would be pretty safe in one of those, too. (Unless someone lobbed an RPG – rocket propelled grenade – at it.)

    At this point in time, given how even President Bush has now weighed in on our need to break “our addiction to oil,” we should be able to look at two-wheels as alternative modes of transport, most especially in the city. But of course, we can’t because those of us who might want to consider a scooter or motorcycle as daily transport must defer to the yahoos driving their SUVs as if they were sports cars, all the time whilst chattering away on cell phones.

    Three-wheelers, such as the old Moggies of the Thirties, might be another way to reduce petroleum consumption; but again, if one has to factor in whether or not the occupants would survive a hit by a Ford Expedition or Chevrolet Suburban, the law of physics might make a three-wheeler safe, only in how its suspension and size might make its driver able to avoid a collision.

    Maybe the IIHS is getting money under the table from the General and Ford to help the sagging sales of its behemoths? More likely, they are not. But the effect is the same: more soccer moms continuing to buy huge, herkin’ SUVs so they can be safe, while those of us still driving automobiles, have to hope and pray they don’t take the greenhouse off of cars, if they rear-end us.

    Remember that piece of technology that Ford had on the Excursion which (theoretically) would prevent that behemoth from going over the passenger compartment of a conventional car? How many accomodations do we have to make to ensure that Detroit keeps selling these profit makers, whilst keeping us enslaved to the Mid-east?

  • avatar
    Luther

    “I also have trouble believing that the average buyer for Toyota is three times as careful as the average Chevy or Ford buyer.”

    Really! Have you ever been on the road in Hicktown, USA after the bars close on a Friday night?

  • avatar
    blautens

    lprocter1982:

    I have a perfect compromise: Ford Crown Victoria. It’s safe, big, and gets decent mileage (up to 28mpg on the highway with the A/C on.) Safety, reliability, and decent gas consumption – perfect for a safety- and environment-crazed society.

    Yeah, safe. In an all too typical for Ford crispy sort of way.

    http://www.crownvictoriasafetyalert.com/

    http://www.autosafety.org/getcat.php?cid=34

    I like how Ford is making deals to attempt to modify Police Interceptors, but ignoring the civilian model. My former colleagues in the local agencies tell me that is indeed the case with 2 large agencies nearby, but only after Ford was strong armed…some agencies have nothing from Ford on the matter.

  • avatar
    davejay

    Buyers of full-sized SUV’s are migrating towards smaller, lower riding and safer car-based SUV’s (a.k.a. CUV’s). And NHTSA legislation mandating electronic stability control in all SUV’s will yield significant safety gains.

    It’s worth noting that a significant contribution to cars being less safe overall than SUVs is that cars take significantly more damage when hit by/hitting SUVs and other large vehicles. A big part of that inequality comes from those SUVs/large vehicles whose frame rails and/or front bumper ride higher than the floor of the cars they hit.

    So, as people migrate to car-based SUVs (that generally have bumpers closer to the floor height of average cars) and more existing cars are retired in favor of newer cars with side-impact beams, this inequality will be reduced.

    Personally, I’ve always taken less issue with the gas mileage of SUVs, and more of an issue with such large vehicles being used for casual driving (due to the high frame/bumper heights in addition to the weight.) That’s the primary reason I don’t begrudge minivan drivers; they burn almost as much gas as SUV drivers, but their bumpers are more suited to coexistence with cars.

  • avatar
    stimpy

    I certainly hope no media outlet runs with this story. There are enough huge SUVs driven by clueless nincompoops who really NEED 2 tons of steel protecting them from their own idiotic driving. Too bad the rest of us in our normal sized cars will be crushed like grapes when they pull some retarded stunt. I was almost squashed by one such knuckle-dragger in an oncoming Lincoln Navigator who just randomly turned in front of me. No turn signal, nothing. Just a wall of glossy black steel and chrome coming at me….

  • avatar
    danms6

    “I’m thinking most people drive SUV’s slower because they handle less securely.”

    Ideally, that should be the case. However when many people climb up into their SUV, they think they’ve turned on God Mode in a video game.

    During a snowstorm this winter outside of Columbus, I saw 4 cars that had driven off the side of the highway in turns within a 5 mile stretch. All 4 were SUVs equipped with 4WD (Grand Cherokee, Yukon, etc). Obviously it wasn’t the vehicles’ fault since they are easily capable of driving through a little snow.

    Driving a larger and poorer handling vehicle should make you more responsible for the safety of your passengers as well as other drivers, not less.

  • avatar
    Bunter1

    LOL Luther,
    Actually I grew up in Hicktown USA.
    pop. 680 at the time.
    Overall I suspect, can’t prove, that a stronger rural base would be an advantage in lower death rates.
    I’m wondering if reliability could have an effect.
    Accidents, and therfore deaths, do result from system failures. If a airbag, ABS, other brake sytem, steering or restraint system fails it would cause a problem. Crash tests give us an idea what might be the result of a crash if all systems are working. They do not address reliability of the systems.
    CR’s ten year data suggests that in the long run Toy’s are approx. 2-3 times less prone to problems than the Det2.5. Apply that to safety systems and it might explain it. Just a thought.
    Again, I would be suprised to see a big demographic driving difference between two full line manufacturers buyers. Just an opinion, for what its worth.
    Peace be with you.

  • avatar
    Alex Rashev

    Wait a minute…
    If you drive an SUV, you’re probably well-off. If you’re well-off, you probably live in a nice area. If you live in a nice area, you’re probably NOT surrounded by dumb drunkards who run red lights (Anectodal proof: I had my insurance cut 10% just for moving 3 miles, to a “richer” zip code).

    Note how cheaper domestic SUV’s are at the bottom of the pile, while more expensive premium SUV’s are at the top (Rav4 is an exception, but Toyota people are known to be reasonable and careful folks).

    These statistics only tell me that if you want safety, you need to get a better job and move. As the old saying goes, it’s better to be rich and well than poor and ill.

    As for cars, pick what you like. If you drive like a moron, no car will save you, and vice versa. There are plenty of people putting 20-30K miles on their Harleys every year, and they survive just fine.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Yes more metal is better at absorbing the mechanical force of an impact and no amount of arguing can negate the physics of reality but I would raise the following issues.

    1. I disagree that the safety gap between SUVs and cars is set to widen. Two of the issues that were affecting this debate was that SUVs were prone to roll over and that the car-to-SUV impact zone was too high for the car and subsequently posed a danger to the car. Both of these issue are being dealt with – ESP has helped SUVs stay upright and newer cross-over SUVs such as the Edge, Arcadia CX-9 have a much lower impact zone and cars fare better in collisions with them. Drivers of both types of vehicles have benefited from this and will do so as more old SUVs head for the junk yard.

    2. The error or ‘background noise’ in the data from this study due to other factors is too high to draw any conclusions that will withstand scientific scrutiny. I will spare you the statistics lecture but given other factors such as driver behavior or even what the definition of what an SUV is make any conclusion dubious given the narrow gap in the results.

    3. Lastly, to paint this debate as the environmental movement endangering American drivers by promoting efficient transport is not helpful. There are both safe cars and SUVs and unsafe cars and SUVs and the biggest factor to your chances of a fatal accident is driver behavior – aggression, intoxication, fatigue and distraction. These carry much more weight in the chances of a premature on-road demise than the class of vehicle that you’re in. This is plainly reflected in the road fatality statistics for younger drivers.

    Folks – drive safely and teach your kids to drive safely. Do your homework when purchasing a vehicle but don’t get complacent because you have chosen a ‘safe’ vehicle. And whatever you do, don’t get distracted by inconclusive statistics.

  • avatar
    malle

    There’s something wrong here; the Mercedes E Class driver has 2.5 less chance of dying than an S class driver? The S class is a safer car than the E class

  • avatar
    wstansfi

    These stats would be much more meaningful if the other appropriate variables known to be important were included – e.g. age and gender of driver in crash.

  • avatar
    NICKNICK

    # HawaiiJim:
    “Wouldn’t it be great if an automaker came up with an innovative way to make small cars even safer than large cars and large SUVs in vehicle-to-vehicle collisions regardless of size and weight differential? ”

    Won’t happen–physics says you die. If you have a head-on collision between a 30mph 3000lb car and a 30mph 6000lb truck, almost instantly the car is traveling 10mph *backwards*.
    that’s the equivalent of 40-0 in .05 seconds (i’ll give each vehicle roughly 2 feet of crumple zone). Wrap the passengers in all the safety gear you want, but necks will break and organs will rupture.

    The only reason small cars can score 5 star crash test ratings is because they hit a wall and only fight themselves. Weight doesn’t matter when the car stops instantly at a wall–an additional foot of hood crumpling might though. Otherwise, ramming a wall in a MINI is the same as in a Suburban. But put the two together in opposite directions…yikes.

  • avatar
    Alex Rashev

    There’s something wrong here; the Mercedes E Class driver has 2.5 less chance of driving than an S class driver?

    Get this, Mustang Convertible is “safer” than the coupe. Better yet, Solara is a top-ranking “sports car”. All while F-body is at the bottom of the list, despite being a VERY safe car in a collision.

    I guess it’s because poseurs survive better.

  • avatar
    Alex Rashev

    NickNick, that’s only about 20G’s. That’s even within neck’s tolerance.

    Small car’s main advantage is that it can avoid an accident in the first place. Which requires a decent driver. Which is what the root of the problem is – as nation’s drivers get worse and worse, they need to get bigger cars to protect themselves from… themselves.

  • avatar
    stuki

    The S class fatality numbers are higher than the E class’ due to drivers who die of old age while behind the wheel.
    The small car becoming as safe as big hypothesis simply can’t work. You can make any small car incrementally safer by surrounding it with an extra layer of deforming bumper, thereby making it a bigger car. For somewhat similar reasons, car occupants would be safer if everyone drove big cars than if everyone drove small, assuming equivalent engineering. There is just so much more non-human to cushion the crash forces.

  • avatar
    NICKNICK

    Alex Rashev:
    20G’s scares me.

    That aside, I agree with you on the handling/accident avoidance thing.

    However, I’ve been drinking a lot of Mountain Dew lately, so I checked out an Xterra. 60-0 in 127ft and .7g on the skidpad. My GTI: 60-0 in 130ft and .8g on the skidpad. And accordint to either the IIHS or NHSTA (can’t remember who), the Xterra didn’t tip in the accident avoidance maneuver–it slid first. Still, you clip a curb or leave the roadway and it’ll roll…but maybe SUVs aren’t as bad as we thought.

  • avatar
    stuki

    As input to regulatory decisions, the only numbers that ought to matter are the ones related to how a vehicle influences the safety and comfort of others, be they car drivers/passengers, (motor)cyclists or pedestrians.
    If someone ‘needs’ a vehicle that pollutes from both tailpipe and tires, accelerates road surface wear, causes disproportionate accident damage to others, blocks sight lines thereby increasing likelihood of accidents at any given speed in the first place, holds up others by going needlessly slow, taking up enough lane to prevent sharing with bikes, etc. etc., they ought to be able to drive one, as long as they sufficiently compensate the ones they kill, maim and inconvenience in the process.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Wow, we have all the same arguments in the aviation world about safety. One thing is for sure, everyone has a dog in this fight, and most would still be claiming victory when their dog had been bleeding so long that it was dry.

    The number one stat I want to know is one’s likelyhood of being in a car that has a fatality (or the driver’s outcome vs. the rest of the passengers). This eliminates the factor of how many seats it has. Crash studies are nice subjective information, but reality is not in a lab. Also, I want stats by mile driven, not year.

    By the year is great for insurance companies but unless someone tells me that all models have similar yearly average mileage, I don’t care. If I had a 20 mile commute instead of a 2 mile one, I would be much more likely to trade in the ‘crusher for a civic. I think civic’s likely go more miles per year than large SUV’s on average. More miles on the road means more incidents and fatalities.

    Another thing I want to know is fatality rate per mile not caused by driver of the vehicle. First, since you are most likely to be killed by the other guy (unless you are an alcoholic or adolescent), this would be great to know. I don’t think I am especially safer than the average, but I am sure I am not in the bottom 10 percent of driving skill and judgement. Also, this reduces the factor of driver personality (though not eliminating it). Racing around the streets makes you more likely to get hit, but MUCH more likely to hit someone or something.

    It pains me that for all the useless crap that the government pays for we can’t get usable information on vehicle safety.

    Lastly, I would like to point out that there are all sorts of idiots driving all sorts of cars. Don’t fall for the line of thinking that anything should be banned because an idiot might get a hold of it. Otherwise, the internet would already be gone.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    This discussion keeps coming back to which is safer for the driver of a given vehicle in a head-on with another vehicle. However, as a society, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to talk about the safety issues a vehicle causes for other vehicles? If not, you get an automotive arms race with everyone driving a huge truck, in which case the high ride hight, battering-ram design, and large mass are of no benefit. The country/state has decided to consider danger to others over protection of the individual in cases of assault rifles and personal nuclear weapons, why not include standards for trucks that require them to be save to other vehicles and pedestrians they may hit?

  • avatar
    Luther

    “The S class fatality numbers are higher than the E class’ due to drivers who die of old age while behind the wheel.”

    I want to die in my sleep like my Grandfather did, not screaming like the passengers in his car.

    Bunter1: I grew up on a dairy farm in Hicktown NY population about 3000, so, I know how I was on a Friday night.

    Whenever there is a bit of snow here, whole bunches of SUVs do the unintentional off-road boogy. Again, physics-challenged people. Mostly MBAs I suspect.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Gardiner: Actually, if you bought a guzzling SUV you *didn’t* pay the gas guzzler tax. That’s a special tax only leveled at cars (as opposed to light trucks). That’s why a Mercedes Benz E55 station wagon (car) purchaser pays thousands extra penalty dollars at time of purchase while a Dodge Magnum SRT-8 (light truck) buyer doesn’t. One is a “car” but the other managed to get the “light truck” rating. – SunnyvaleCA

    Ontario Canada charges a $400 “Tax for Fuel Consumption” on most mid-sized SUVs. There’s also a $100 federal auto air conditioner tax. Those taxes are further increased by 14-percent provincial and federal sales taxes on the total vehicle cost.

    These, and myriads of other taxes Americans can’t imagine, pay for “free” Canadian medicare. About the only thing they don’t tax here is your Peter; and they’re working on that!

    Canada lacks effective corporate collusion and price fixing legislation. Accordingly, MSRPs are about 20-percent higher than the U.S. after factoring in the lower value of the Canadian dollar.

  • avatar
    Jim H

    (only read about 2 pages of comments…) Recently, here in Colorado, a Hummer 2 drifted into on coming traffic and instantly killed the driver in a car upon impact. This was during rush hour and speeds were 20ish west bound, and only 45ish east bound. The car was going 45, the Hummer 20 (or under…they never followed up with the story). It’s sad that they “car” is the one considered unsafe in this situation, considering the Hummer 2 is the one that drifted (careless/drunk driver). Had the Hummer 2 been a mazda miata, or a motor cycle, the victim in the car likely wouldn’t have died.

    So sure, the Hummer 2 was the safer vehicle, when he/she hits a car. I can’t think of many cars that can handle a Hummer 2 going over them (his front wheel actually popped up on the car and through the wind shield). Duh.

    In this example, I see the Hummer 2 as extremely unsafe to cars on the road. Safe for the driver, sure…but putting the other 50-60% of cars on the road at serious risk? Hmmm…

  • avatar
    Eric_Stepans

    Lots of good points made by other posters, so I will mostly summarize a few key ones:

    1) Almost all of the data I’ve seen indicates that the age/gender/experience/social class of the driver is a *far* larger variable in vehicle safety than the vehicles themselves.

    2) There is no useful way to measure “accidents avoided” by smaller/lighter/more nimble cars. That factor gets smeared by the age/gender/experience variable.

    3) Buckle up, stay alert and drive with caution appropriate to conditions…and you’ll probably never suffer a fatal or severe injury accident. The median impact speed of most traffic accidents is something like 13 mph (I forget where I read that).

    4) I am the environmentalist that does not favor raising CAFE standards. I think petroleum/gasoline should be taxed to a fare-thee-well to pay for the death, environmental destruction, foreign policy distortion, etc. that it causes. Once you get oil/gasoline priced correctly, vehicle choice problems will take care of themselves.

  • avatar

    kaisen:
    So you’re saying we should all drive motorcycles because there could only be one death per vehicle per accident? Sorry, that logic doesn’t sit well with me.

    my point was about relative weight. other things being equal, two 6000lb objects colliding is going to generate a lot more action than two 3000lb objects colliding. generally, we’d all be better off if we collided only in lighter objects. accidents would all be pretty light if we were all in motorcycles, except that they don’t have a body to shield you from the impact. and they don’t hold a family like most cars/SUVs do.

    rd4:
    You can’t repeal the laws of physics: all things being equal, a larger vehicle is more protective of its occupants than a smaller one.

    right, you can’t repeal the law of physics, which tells us that, among other things, the heavier things are the more force they’re going to have to disperse. collisions between larger objects will generally cause more damage. of course if you keep what you are hitting constant, you’d rather be in the heavier thing. but would you rather hit someone else in a 3000lb car or a 6000lb SUV? you’d rather hit the car. but if everyone follows the “heavier is better” logic, we’ll all be hitting other SUVs all the time.

    it’s great that people in cars who are struck by SUVs are getting safer, and that people in SUVs are getting safer. but in vehicle-to-vehicle collisions we would generally all be safer if we were all in cars. getting into heavier vehicles is an arms race. of course I’m not saying we should therefore ban SUVs. I just believe we should work on even-ing out the incentives. we all have an interest in reducing the weight of our cars, environmental concerns aside.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    I have to differ with RF on this one. If you read the “status report” of the study on the IIHS website, it’s fairly clear that the study does not conclude that SUV’s have lower death rates than do cars, but that larger vehicles have lower death rates than do smaller ones.

    The study expands on this in a table called “Influence of Vehicle Weight”, which calculates that within a given weight range, the car will outperform a comparable SUV of near-equal weight. The heavier the weight class, the more the scales tip toward choosing a car, as opposed to the SUV. In reviewing the numbers more reason, the reason becomes clear — the SUV’s substantially higher rollover rates result in an overall driver death rate than does the car in the similar weight class.

    The correlation in the data between weight and fatality rates is fairly direct and obvious. Presumably, small vehicles not only lose in terms of mass, but most likely have less crush space that can be used to protect the occupants. But this is true of both lighter-weight SUV’s as well as cars — the IIHS reports that 2,501-3,000 pound SUV’s had higher fatality rates than cars of any weight, including cars of under 2,500 lbs. The SUV’s still come up short in this study, no matter how you slice it.

  • avatar

    “SUVs give a false impression of safety. With their height and comparatively narrow tire-track width, SUVs handle and maneuver much less effectively than cars. Emergency swerves to avoid a crash can themselves lead to rollover accidents in SUVs, which are four times more likely to roll over in an accident.”

    Governor Corzine might never have been in that accident if the vehicles involved had been cars instead of trucks. Trucks can’t get out of their own way. And safety is the result of both vehicle protection an dthe ability of car and driver to avoid accident.

  • avatar

    Ron DeFore
    Communication Director
    SUV Owners of America
    You can’t repeal the laws of physics: all things being equal, a larger vehicle is more protective of its occupants than a smaller one.

    But all else is not equal. Truck based SUVs have rigid bodies, so that if they hit each other, or trees, the occupants are more likely to be injured/killed than the occupants of cars hitting each other or trees.

  • avatar

    Pch101:

    As previously stated, the IIHS (and others) have fixed on DRIVER fatalities to better identify vehicle safety, as there are occupant variables that change in relation to seat belt use, average number of occupants per vehicle type, etc.

    As my article states, there are many ways to interpret the data. But common sense is a pretty good guide.

    Would I rather be in a medium or large car during a single vehicle crash? Sure. Would I rather be in an SUV during a vehicle on vehicle collision? You betcha. Uh, depending on the SUV.

    And, as many of you have pointed out, there are other questions worth asking before supporting the main conclusion made here.

    Would I rather not have an accident (and there’s no way to record active accident avoidance) than be in any SUV crash? Duh.

    But if you simply compare the final stats for driver fatalities, it’s clear which vehicle types and sizes have a higher death rate.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    There was a time in the 1980’s when Jeep offered a Cherokee diesel (2.1L) that provided 31 MPG on the highway. Yes it was slow (most vehicles in the 80’s were), but it was also an awful lot of fun with a 5-speed and actually had pretty solid durability to boot. Unfortunately, the lack of diesel SUV’s over the last 15 years has greatly harmed the reputation of SUV’s in the NA market. There’s really no decent excuse for it other than whatever quarterly profits or marketeers interfered with the thought process.

    The bulbous nature of SUV’s these days is also pathetic, but expected, and speaks volumes about the consumer’s greater desire for comfort (both physical and mental) over driver involvement. Midsized SUV’s are simply awkward Cadillacs for folks who just can’t bear to drive an actual Cadillac. That is, unless they’re driving a Cadillac Escalade or SRX.

    Most SUV’s are also downright dreadful to drive (note I said drive, not ride) compared with virtually any other alternative. Even minivans can claim to offer a near Cadillac ride for nearly half the price. No SUV can replicate that level of comfort at the low-20’s price point.

    They do look rugged…. in the way a bloated old steamboat looks rugged when they’re surrounded by schooners and minnows. However unless you really want to go off-roading, the entire design pathology of current mid-sized and larger SUV’s serve little functional purpose. In most cases they’re just a reflection of the consumer’s fear and lack of product knowledge.

    The SUV’s of today are mostly following the classic ‘longer, lower, wider’ axiom that destroyed the full-sized sedan market not too long ago. They’re also adding plenty of weight in the process.

    I think they’ll be scaled down in numbers, if not in volume, for the forseeable future. If side impact standards were strict enough to substantially reduce the possibility for fatality, and if engines in the North American market were more fuel efficient, I would have no problem endorsing them. However metal hitting glass and human skulls upon side impacts IS a problem that exists and it won’t go away until the free market regards the current SUV’s and shoddy small cars as bad values.

    Unless issues like handling, center of gravity, and interior ergonomics are changed for the better there’s simply no intelligent reason to own one for the commute.

  • avatar

    NickNick
    The only reason small cars can score 5 star crash test ratings is because they hit a wall and only fight themselves. Weight doesn’t matter when the car stops instantly at a wall–an additional foot of hood crumpling might though. Otherwise, ramming a wall in a MINI is the same as in a Suburban. But put the two together in opposite directions…yikes.

    Right. The MINI ramming a wall is as safe as the suburban ramming the wall. And the MINI ramming a MINI is probably safer than two suburb ans ramming each other, because those truck chassis are rigid. Bottom line: getting the big SUVs off the road will improve the public health.

  • avatar

    RF: Would I rather be in a medium or large car during a single vehicle crash? Sure. Would I rather be in an SUV during a vehicle on vehicle collision? You betcha. Uh, depending on the SUV.

    Not me. I would rather be in a car-car crash than an SUV-SUV crash. Or a car-tree crash than an SUV-tree crash. The only time I would not want to be in the car is when it tangles with an SUV. But you should ask Governor Corzine what he thinks.

  • avatar
    wsn

    The very notion that death rate = safety is wrong.

    Driver behaviour plays a very significant role. With IIHS data, the Prius scores better than MB E-class (in terms of injury claims). Let’s not forget E-class drivers are the conservative type to start with.

    Unless we give hundreds of cars to people that we random choose (instead of letting people choose their cars) and conduct a long term study, we just don’t know the safety of these cars. We may know the death rate, injury claims or crashworthiness scores. But just not safety.

  • avatar

    The IIHS stats are quite different from the stats compiled several years ago by Tom Wenzel of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Mark Ross, a physicist at the U of MI. They looked both at driver deaths and at deaths of the driver of the other car per million vehicles Even without considering the driver of the other vehicle, cars do considerably better than SUVs. The best SUV, the Suburban, is #12 on the list (three minivans are in the top 11). The Jetta is #4. Even just considering drivers of the jetta, the car does as well as the Suburban (47 and 46 deaths per mn vehicles respectively). In contrast, For the Explorer, 88 of its drivers die per mn vehicles. For the F-series pickeup, 110 drivers die per mn vehicles.

  • avatar
    Ryan

    Since the safety disparity between cars and SUVs is shrinking, it’s a little late, but it might be nice if driving standards were a little more stringent for more dangerous vehicles. You wanna drive that 6000lbs land whale? Prove you’re not going to kill the rest of us who can’t afford, or just don’t want something that big. Or that sports car? At the very least, prove you can get it out of your driveway without wrapping it around a tree. If a blind person can drive better than you, you’re driving an Aveo.

  • avatar
    thx_zetec

    Just go read the link that Farago provides to the full report. Amazing reading. My conclusion reading the full report is that the extra steel is often a waste of money for driver safety, and a big hazard for other drivers.

    First the is a trend for very small cars to be more dangerous. But is bigger better?

    Say you have two kids and want a family hauler. The Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sieena minivans have total driver death rates of 19 and 32 respectively. Suburban 1/2 ton and Expedition about 50. So the extra steel and gas consumption and high purchase prices just give you less safety.

    And lots more death for others. As pointed out these are death rates for the driver – for other drivers the “big iron” much, much more dangerous.

    Honda Civic is 67, safer than all the large pickups tested! Again, not to mention much,much safer for others. Also safer than many “very large” pickups. Of course in a head-on the giant pickup is safer, but the roll-over death rate for some pickups is higher than the Civic total (!).

    Stability control will allow Americans to drive huge, un-necessarily high-CG vehicles more and more safely, all whilst endangering others. That is the “good news”.

  • avatar
    hal

    I’m not sure the SUV vs Car debate is really useful. No matter how you spin the figures some of the smaller cars and some of the older SUVs are deathtraps. What I would take away from the figures is the importance of the safety features of the individual model within its category.
    People will choose vehicles based on need, budget or preference but at least reports like this can steer people who have already chosen a vehicle style towards the safer choice – the RAV4 over the Sportage for example.

    Any ideas why the VW Passat is such an outlier? Did it get side airbags as standard earlier than other cars or something?

  • avatar

    A couple of things to keep in mind.
    First, to avoid confusion, I do not argue that SUVs are less safe than regular cars. At the extreme, a Hummer against small Kia is the automotive equivalent of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse descending on a small farm.

    That said:
    SUV on SUV crashes will involve far greater forces than car on car – due to the size of the vehicles. Try to avoid those.

    SUV on CAR crashes. What the stat’s don’t capture is crashes that didn’t happen because the smaller car is easier to maneuver around a potential crash. It stops faster, can be handled snappier, and can even out accelerate the impact point of a crash. The classic SUV accident is when a driver tries to avoid a crash and rolls over instead.

    Robert writes: And along comes a scientific study from a reputable independent organization that concludes that YOU’RE safer in an SUV than a passenger car.

    What needs to be confronted is who YOU is. Because if you’re in the car that just met an SUV, YOU’RE not safer. Which means the study misses the point — it should explore the distinction between the common good and self interest, which is what this dichotomy is all about.

  • avatar
    EJ

    Small cars would be perfectly safe, if only everybody would be driving them.
    As it is, SUV owners surround themselves with tank-like structures ready to crush anything in their path (and often drive aggressively and dangerously). That’s a problem. I think it’s the role of government to look out for the greater good of society as a whole and discourage SUV ownership. That can be done through taxation: large, heavy vehicles ought to be penalized with a high tax.

  • avatar
    Spanish guy

    Wouldn’t it be great if an automaker came up with an innovative way to make small cars even safer than large cars and large SUVs in vehicle-to-vehicle collisions regardless of size and weight differential?

    There are two (technically) simple ways to do it:

    *Wear a helmet. I know a extremely cautious guy who actually drives his car helmeted, in the street. He wears a 500 grams Sky helmet. Well, he´s right about his reasons, but you need to be a rugged individualist to actually do that. Just Google “CASR headband” for references.

    *5 point harness. The three point seat belt is crap.

    Less simple ways to increase safety in a small car:

    * Remove the steering wheel. Saab built a Saab 9000 commanded by a joystick in the mid 80´s. The steering wheel is a dangerous atavism.

    * Move the driver to the center of the car.

  • avatar
    cheezeweggie

    If we were all that worried about crash safety we’d all be driving Volvos.

  • avatar
    shaker

    I’m with the “miles vs. years” argument. As gas prices increase, people (I know one) will abandon their SUV’s for longer daily commutes (the difference in gas can make a small car payment). More vehicle miles increases your exposure to an accident.
    And, no matter how nimble smaller vehicles are, it’s no help in many multi-car/SUV freeway pileups — there’s nowhere to go…

  • avatar
    vento97

    No, the simple, unavoidable, inconvenient truth is that the anti-SUV campaigners were right: physics rule the day.

    All this is a moot point. People will continue to buy the big gas guzzling SUVs simply due to the fact that their super-sized arses can’t fit into anything smaller.

    It’s just a matter of physics…

  • avatar
    Fred D.

    These figures are so skewed by demographics that they are next to useless. Take the Crown Vic/Mercury Grand Marquis twins.

    The Crown Vic has 45 deaths vs. 75 for the twin Mercury. The cars are identical.

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    * Move the driver to the center of the car.

    “Hey, honey, now may I have that McLaren F1 I always wanted?”

  • avatar
    Spanish guy

    “Hey, honey, now may I have that McLaren F1 I always wanted?”

    That´s not the idea: The idea is to go back in time to the good old bench seats, mounted on long range rails. If the driver drives alone in the car, he/she would be able to move to the center of the car, specially if the car is joystick commanded.

    Good location means improved safety in case of crash. I always wonder why I have to sit in a corner of my car with a dangerous contraption (the steering wheel) in front of me.

  • avatar

    Spanish guy: *Wear a helmet. I know a extremely cautious guy who actually drives his car helmeted, in the street. He wears a 500 grams Sky helmet. Well, he´s right about his reasons, but you need to be a rugged individualist to actually do that. Just Google “CASR headband” for references.

    Years ago, when I was driving a 1900-some lb ’77 Toyota Corolla, I did this. I wore a bicycle helmet.

  • avatar
    Spanish guy

    Years ago, when I was driving a 1900-some lb ‘77 Toyota Corolla, I did this. I wore a bicycle helmet.

    Well, according to those CASR australian safety researchers you did the right thing. They suggest to wear just that, a bicycle helmet. Seems that´s enough to make a difference in case of crash.

    I wonder if side head airbags and/or curtain airbags make the helmet stunt superfluous.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Robert, The IIHS is “a reputable independent organization”?

    Reputable? probably.

    Independent? Not so much, given that they are dependant on the pocketbooks of the the big personal lines insurance carriers.

    I’m not saying I don’t trust their data, but I do question their motivation, which is more focused on reducing loss ratios for insurers than helping consumers.

  • avatar
    AKM

    I wonder if new bumper height regulations for SUVs will affect car safety in case of a crash with said SUV. It should. Most modern cars are built so that impact strength is deflected away from the passenger compartment, even in case of brutal crashes.

    I am always flabergasted with the number of people (both car and SUV drivers) who have empty bike rakcs, lowered pick-up tailgates, plywood sticking out of the hatch, and so on. So many variations on the concept of ram, at just the right level to take your fellow driver’s head off.

    In the end, even though I’m pro-car, and a quite a bit anti-SUV, I believe it’s simply the fact that we do not really care about our fellow human being that led to those changes, as in “I’m nice and safe in my vehicle, why should I care in the slightest bit about others?”. Driving an SUV purely for safety reasons also means that you consciously put your life above (!) that of small car drivers. But every vehicle can be a danger to others, in the wrong hands, not only SUVs.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    Robert – to respond, albeit a bit late, you ask what car I would want for my teenage child. Well, safety would be a factor, but I certainly wouldn’t want them in an SUV, nor a Miata. Something in-between, not too much power, good handling… etc. The point I was making was more that while safety is a factor, we shouldn’t be picking automobiles just for how well they will protect in a crash… crash avoidance is a lot more preferable, and a bigger factor for me. Plus there’s also the safety of others to think about. SUVs are perhaps safer for their occupants, but what about the people they hit? Anyhow I get the impression that you pretty much agree.

  • avatar
    Badgermike

    Gordon Tullock at George Mason University insists that we would all drive much more safely if we attached a big spike to the steering wheel and point it directly at our chest.

    This example makes an interesting point (no pun intended ;-) about safety – that there may be different perspectives involved. In the case of vehicle safety, we may care about the safety of the driver (and passengers) or the overall safety of other cars, pedestrians, etc. So seat belts, for example, provide safety to the driver but may actually make the rest of the driving environment less safe because it makes the driver too comfortable. In the case of the spike, it makes the driver obviously less safe, but presumably would result in extremely cautious driving to the betterment of the driving environment.

    In security, there is an old analogy about how security is like brakes in the car. Folks often think of brakes as slowing down the car, but ultimately they provide the comfort to the driver to allow him/her to go even faster. Consider how fast you might drive without brakes – not very. Of course, this may not be good for safety, but it provides an interesting perspective on how security can be used to enable business by providing brakes that allow us to go faster.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    SUV’s are safer to a point – which the media will of course ignore. IF you need SUV capacity and don’t have to deal with heavy snow or towing, you’re better off with a minivan.

    Re RF’s take:
    environmental campaigners, most of whom favor government intervention to “persuade” Americans drivers to exchange their SUV’s for small, frugal and more dangerous vehicles.

    The above wack-jobs drove a university staff acquaintance (who normally wouldn’t have considered an SUV) into buying a year old Explorer. She has 4 kids – and noticed the same control freaks who disparage large families are also SUV haters.

  • avatar
    Spanish guy

    we would all drive much more safely if we attached a big spike to the steering wheel and point it directly at our chest

    The concep is called “risk homeostasis”. It is a disputed concept.

    Just a googling http://www.google.es/search?hl=es&sa=X&oi=spell&resnum=0&ct=result&cd=1&q=%22risk+homeostasis%22&spell=1

  • avatar
    Badgermike

    Spanish guy:

    “The concep is called “risk homeostasis”. It is a disputed concept.”

    It may be disputed, but there is evidence that it happens.
    People will buy what they perceive to be a safer product, a vehicle that maximizes their personal utility. It is up to the driver to drive safely. There have been many other studies that show for example here http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/somerset/5334208.stm
    car drivers are less safe (leave less room between vehicles) when passing folks on bicycles that are wearing have helmets. These car/suv drivers believe the cycler “knows what he/she is doing” and thus the driver is slightly less worried about the ability of the cyclist, (the driver perceives the cyclist is competent) allowing slightly less space between the vehicles. This leads to less margin for error, and thus errors are more likely.
    Life is a series of risks and rewards. People have different levels of risk that they are willing to assume. When trading from a car (perceived less safe) to an SUV (perceived more safe) They have lowered their risk level to below what they are comfortable with. The new lower risk level allows the driver to take slightly more chances, as “danms6:
    April 23rd, 2007 at 4:31 pm
    points out..”During a snowstorm this winter outside of Columbus, I saw 4 cars that had driven off the side of the highway in turns within a 5 mile stretch. All 4 were SUVs equipped with 4WD (Grand Cherokee, Yukon, etc). Obviously it wasn’t the vehicles’ fault since they are easily capable of driving through a little snow.”
    Notice that there were no 2WD/RWD cars he saw in the ditch. These drivers felt/perceived that they were “safer” in their 4WD vehicles and thus drove slightly faster/or slightly more recklessly than the conditions allowed.

    The real question should be what percentage of fatalities are related to “driver error” vs. “equipment failure”?

  • avatar

    Me: Years ago, when I was driving a 1900-some lb ‘77 Toyota Corolla, I did this. I wore a bicycle helmet.

    Spanish guy: Well, according to those CASR australian safety researchers you did the right thing. They suggest to wear just that, a bicycle helmet. Seems that´s enough to make a difference in case of crash.

    ME: I found the CASR project very interesting. Would love to be able to get such a device (it would look more discrete than a bicycle helmet)

    SG: I wonder if side head airbags and/or curtain airbags make the helmet stunt superfluous.

    ME: Probably superfluous. Maybe even dangerous. If you want to discuss this further, you can email me at dcholzman@aol.com

  • avatar

    This from Scorched Earth:

    RF:

    As you say the data could be spun any way the media wish.

    The NHSTA and IIHS data failed to record important data such as deaths from single vehicle crashes, rollovers, etc. And of course the data may have been manipulated.

    Of course the heavier car will almost always prevail in a head-to-head crash. However, that constitutes only about a third of all fatalities…about a third are also due to rollovers, to which SUV’s are extremely prone.

    I don’t really like to trust the NHSTA or IIHS by themselves because there is a tremendous amount of variability and question marks inherent in their tests.

    The most trustworthy site, IMO, is http://www.informedforlife.org/, which takes NHSTA and IIHS ratings, weight, and stability control into account in its ratings, providing an overall rating applicable to all types of car.

    They use a sh4tload of data to correlate the ratings to real-life data on fatalities. As you can see on their ranking charts, for the most part cars win out vs. SUV’s. But some CUV’s like the Honda Pilot and Ford Edge do extremely well, too.

    Sure, there are some inconsistencies and bugs in the ratings, but for the most part I think Informed for Life does a great job.

    You should have a look for yourself….


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributing Writers

  • Jack Baruth, United States
  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Vojta Dobes, Czech Republic
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Cameron Aubernon, United States
  • J Emerson, United States