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SUV Woes

What do you reckon about SUVs and their bullishness on our roads?  The deliberation about SUVs, let alone trucks, being too big and potentially dangerous on the roads has been around for some time now.  Summing up the argument against the SUVs, Keith Bradshaw, in his book ‘High and Mighty’, fires a number of assertive shots that, to be fair, are right on the money.  We’ll never get rid of the SUVs and 4x4s from our roads; they’re just too practical.  But big vehicles like the Nissan Patrol, Toyota Land Cruiser and Holden Colorado do leave some serious carnage out on the road when they just-so happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A lot of people love the ride height, the space, the practicality, the off-roading ability and the comfort of many SUV models.  A flash new Rangie or X5 is always going to be a great status symbol, looking great up anyone’s driveway.  But behind the rosy appeal of an SUV creeps one or two nasty stats that are hard to hide.  To see this nastiness we look into some of the grim findings that crash statistics reveal, something which Keith has been harping on about for so long.

Nasty, big accidents are always best avoided.  When it all comes down to it, car crashes are all about physics.  The forces at work, the weights, the speeds and breaking points of stressed metal during a car crash all work together to produce the final mess.  Just how big that mess will be depends on the sizes of the vehicles involved.  Unfortunately, for the driver of the smaller vehicle, their vehicle acts as an enlarged crumple zone when it collides with a weightier, more solidly built SUV.  It might seem nice for you to think that because you are the one in the SUV you’ll be better protected than the person in the Corolla.  However, some would say that this sort of thinking is more than a little inconsiderate towards the driver of the Corolla – who may or may not walk away.  With more and more people buying SUVs, there is an increase in SUVs on our roads – making it a little riskier for those driving smaller vehicles.

But now we’re going to take a look at the SUV crash stats from a different angle.  Occupants of SUVs do fair better in front on accidents with smaller vehicles.  They also fair very well when they are hit side-on by smaller vehicles.  Their greater height and stronger chassis components overwhelm the smaller vehicles.  But the positives for the SUV driver stops here.  Research collected from everyday crashes involving SUVs shows a higher percentage of people die in serious SUV crashes than in serious car crashes.  Now how can this be?  Because of the weight and strength of the SUV and 4×4, if they crash into any immovable solid object, like a brick wall or large tree, then the stiffer structure of the vehicle transfers a huge part of the crash forces into its occupants.  The human frame can’t cope with such high loads.

Rollovers happen at a higher rate in SUV type vehicles than in cars.  A higher centre of gravity means that they are more likely to roll when they lose control.  High speed rollovers are particularly lethal in a big SUV.  Occupants are flung towards the outsides of the vehicle, and the impact with solid materials is often fatal.  Roofs of an everyday SUV, more often than not, aren’t strong enough to resist caving in during a high speed rollover.  Very new SUVs like the BMW X6 have side curtain airbags as well as airbags that come from the roof lining by the doors.  They also have pre-tensioned seatbelts and a stronger safety cage.  These new features are not found in your everyday SUV of yesteryear.

So the moral?  Buy an SUV if you want to; always wear your pre-tensioned seatbelts, and drive safely!