SUV safety gap is worst ever
WASHINGTON, D.C — Sport utility vehicles (SUVs) are more popular than ever in the United States. But their safety record is worse than ever compared to that of passenger cars. Last year, people in SUVs were 11 percent more likely to die in a traffic accident than people in other kinds of cars, according to a new report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Consumer research has shown that the height and bulk of SUVs make riders and passengers feel safer in them. “Their safe image is an illusion” wrote Keith Bradsher in the book High and Mighty: The Dangerous Rise of the SUV.
An SUV is more likely to be involved in a rollover–an accident in which the vehicle turns over at least onto its side and sometimes onto its roof. SUVs have a higher center of gravity–the point in an object around which its mass is evenly distributed. A higher center of gravity increases a vehicle’s tendency to flip. The new NHTSA report says that the widening safety gap between passenger cars and SUVs last year was due largely to the higher risk of rollover in SUVs.
Tests by the Consumers Union have also shown that the greater weight of SUVs makes them harder to handle–they cannot respond as well to emergency situations (an oncoming car, a child darting into traffic). Their weight also makes them more difficult to bring to a sudden stop.
Critics say SUVs are hazardous to other cars, too. In multivehicle collisions, SUVs are three times as likely as Other passenger cars to kill someone in the other vehicle, according to a study done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The auto industry has begun to respond to criticism and has tried to make newer-model SUVs safer: According to the NHSTA report, the Honda Pilot and the Chrysler Pacifica are among the safer SUV models because they are less likely to roll over.
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