Your top priority is keeping your family safe—including on the road. You know you can’t depend on other people to drive safely, so you take matters into your own hands by buying what you believe is the safest vehicle available for your family. For many people, this means buying a full-sized sport utility vehicle (SUV). It makes sense that SUVs provide better protection in a crash than a standard car due to their overall size and higher profile. While this is true in some situations, SUVs also have some major safety concerns that should be taken into consideration.
Recent Crash Tests Reveal SUV Safety Flaw
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) conducts rigorous safety tests on all makes and models of vehicles and publishes highly-respected safety ratings. Automakers keep a close eye on these tests and respond with safety improvements on their low-testing vehicles. Recently, the IIHS ran a new test that proved to be difficult for many SUVs to pass.
Known as the “small overlap” test, vehicles are run into a barrier at 40 mph with all of the impact coming at an isolated area of the front end, simulating a car running into a tree or a pole. Since 2012, this test has only been done on the driver side of the car and initial poor ratings prompted automakers to reinforce their vehicles to protect drivers from this type of crash.
However, this year, the IIHS ran a trial test of the passenger side of SUVs and found they were not as safe on that side. Of the seven models with “good” small overlap safety ratings on the driver side, six rated “poor” or merely “acceptable” on the passenger side. This is a concern because, according to IIHS data, nearly 1,600 front-seat passengers were killed in front-end crashes in 2014 alone. Due to these findings, a passenger-side small overlap test may be added to the IIHS list of required tests for its overall safety rating as early as 2018.
Rollovers Are Always a Threat
While an SUV’s bigger and heavier construction does make it safer than a smaller car in most collisions, it also carries a higher risk of a rollover crash. Because of a higher center of gravity, an SUV is top heavy and more likely than a car to flip over when balance is compromised, such as when rounding a corner, turning sharply, hitting debris in the road, or encountering a soft shoulder. According to Consumer Reports, rollovers are an uncommon but deadly type of crash, accounting for only three percent of all crashes, but 30 percent of crash fatalities.
Drivers of SUVs should be aware of the risk and do the following to either avoid a rollover or make it more likely they will survive one:
- Wear a safety belt
- Keep tires properly inflated
- Don't place heavy loads on top of the vehicle
- Avoid excessive speeds
- Be extra cautious on undivided highways with no barriers
Crash Avoidance Technology Is the Way to Go
As a direct result of early crash test failures, automakers have significantly improved the safety of SUVs by developing technology that prevents crashes and protects occupants.
When purchasing an SUV, particularly a used one, make sure it has the following safety features:
- Electronic Stability Control (ESC). This technology automatically brakes individual wheels as needed to prevent spinning out. ESC is mandatory on all vehicles built since 2012, so stability control is mostly a concern with older cars.
- Antilock Brake Systems (ABS). Also now standard on new vehicles, an ABS keeps your wheels from locking up in hazardous road conditions so your car maintains directional control if you can't make a complete stop in time.
- Curtain Air Bags. For extra protection in a rollover crash, air bag canopies or curtains are essential safety features, as they protect occupants on all sides.
It's important to note that many smaller, less expensive cars also offer these safety features. These vehicles are also perfectly capable of keeping your family safe in many situations.
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