This isn’t really news, in that we’ve known for a while thatSUVsaren’tnecessarilysafer than cars, but a new study in Pediatrics shows that, compared with sedans, driving an SUV doesn’t make your kids any safer. To some extent, bulk may give SUVs an advantage in collisions with smaller vehicles. But because of their height and weight, SUVs are twice as likely to roll over than are cars—and rollover accidents are particularly dangerous to kids, with three times the risk of serious injury as accidents with no rollover. On net, the increased rollover risk cancels out the purported benefit of a heavier vehicle.
So SUVs don’t make your kids safer. But there are things that will help—including properly restraining children with car seats and seat belts. Restrained children face a 2 or 3 percent injury risk in passenger cars and SUVs respectively—not much difference there. By contrast, leaving children loose in a car or SUV quadruples their risk in a crash. And in an SUV rollover, the risk is twenty-five times higher.
Another recent study works through the physics of rollovers (pdf): SUVs with a King-of-the-road view can raise the center of gravity—especially when loaded with passengers and cargo—enough to tip on a hard turn. This same study also goes over what makes light trucks more dangerous to other cars, even when ignoring their worse handling and longer stopping distance.
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Greater weight and stiffness mean that light trucks mean the other vehicle in a crash has to absorb more force. And their greater height can cause their frame to intrude more into the body of the other car. In a back-of-the-envelope calculation, the authors estimate that if all light trucks that are used only as "car substitutes" were replaced with passenger cars, it would save three to four thousand lives a year
Now, some people will argue that they need a truck/SUV for the couple of times a year they [insert heavy-duty use here]. To that, I suggest buying a well-designed, fuel efficient passenger car for most of the year while renting an SUV for that fishing trip in the summer. Your children will be just as safe, you’ll spend less on gas, and you’ll also save your own car the wear and tear from rutted dirt roads.