SUVs, Unsafe and in Your Space

English 103

23 February 2004

On November 10, 2003, the Northwest Indiana Times reported the deaths of three people occurring on Interstate 57. Robert Hubbard, 28, was driving north in the southbound lanes of the interstate around 2:37 a.m. when his Chevy Blazer struck another vehicle head-on. The other vehicle was a Pontiac sedan carrying four persons ranging in age from 20 to 24. Only one of the passengers in the Pontiac survived.

Last December, two teens were driving home from school in their 2000 Toyota SUV. After coming close to ending up in the ditch, the driver swerved back toward the center of the road causing the Toyota to flip two times and stop right side up. The two teens were thrown from the vehicle during the rollover, and both died at the scene.

It is true that in some accidents you may be better off in an SUV. They are bigger, and provide more of a cushioning when being rear-ended or t-boned at a low speed. Passengers in SUVs involved in these less severe types of accidents would probably experience less damage to their vehicle and themselves, provided that other vehicle in the accident was smaller in size. However, when a sedan is hit by a SUV, it could be deadly for those passengers in the smaller car. According to Joan Claybrook, in the event of a rollover a fatality is three times more likely in an SUV than a passenger car (7). SUVs are unsafe, and they must be redesigned because they pose a severe threat to other drivers on the road, and also endanger their own passengers.

The compatibility of SUVs with other cars on the road has been a major concern over the past few years. Compatibility refers to the degree to which vehicles are matched in vehicle-to-vehicle crashes. Contributing to this problem is the fact that the number of SUVs on the road has continued to climb. In 1995, 1 in every 9 vehicles sold was an SUV, and in 2003 SUVs made up nearly half of new vehicle sales. SUVs simply are not compatible in accidents with smaller sized cars. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that when an SUV strikes a passenger car, there are sixteen driver fatalities in the passenger car for every driver fatality in the SUV. In March 1999, the NHTSA looked at the design of many popular SUVs and found that the height and frames make them lethal to people in smaller vehicles. According to Tom Randall, when the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards were put into place, the average car weight had to be decreased to meet them, thereby increasing fatalities caused by weight and structure of an SUV. On average, SUVs are designed to ride eight inches higher than a car. SUVs also have a more rigid frame consisting of two steel rails while most cars only have one. This design makes it harder for the SUV to absorb any impact or crumple during the crash, therefore causing the other car to endure most of the damage. In relation to the sturdiness of the SUV, Bradsher said this:

Even an SUV that has been in a fatal collision, killing a car occupant and injuring its own occupants, can sometimes be in fairly good condition, requiring repairs only to the surface metal and passenger compartment, but not to the heavy steel underbody, according to police investigators of crashes.

On the other hand, SUVs can be extremely dangerous to their passengers because of their tendency to roll over. In January 2001, as part of the New Car Assessment Program, the NHTSA published basic safety information about SUVs pertaining to their tendency to roll over. The information was only made available through their website. Twenty-two SUVs in the 2003 model year received a rollover rating of 2 stars out of 5, indicating that they were “very prone to rollover.” What makes this problem more appalling is that, “…rollovers are actually highly survivable crashes, because forces in the collision are far lower than those in many other types of highway crashes,” says Joan Claybrook. Consequently, rollovers are dangerous due to poor vehicle design. Seatbelts and seat structure are obviously not made to keep the passengers in