It was recently discovered that SUVs, which have long had a reputation as death traps (due to the risk of rollover), are now among the safest cars on the road, with only minivans showing a lower fatality rate. But we wonder: Is that because the danger of SUVs had been overstated, or because automakers have since addressed the danger?
Mostly, fortunately, the latter. SUVs are safer because of a wide variety of government protections and advanced systems installed in many models that make them much safer on the roads. For example:
- Most SUVs now come with electronic stability control (ESC), a system that monitors the vehicle and automatically applies the brakes intelligently if it believes the driver is going into a skid. Most ESC systems, for example, can brake just one wheel slightly or slam all four to total stillness. This has vastly reduced the number of rollover incidents, which made up 60% of SUV fatalities at one point.
- In 2009, the federal government substantially tightened its “roof crush” standards. Part of the danger of rollover accidents is that the roof can deform, possibly inflicting fatal head injuries to the occupants. Today, the roofs of cars must be able to handle at least three times the weight of the vehicle, both to protect it from rollover and to stop any deformity.
- The problem of blind zones has been addressed, both by lowering the heights of the vehicles and adding “video” rearview mirrors.
- Finally, the way SUVs have been constructed has changed substantially. Before, they were built exclusively on truck frames; now SUVS can be constructed with sedan chassis or “hybrid” chassis options.
All of this may have you thinking, “Great, I can get an SUV now and be completely safe on the road.” Well, not quite. The older models are still out there, still widely available, and likely haven’t been retrofitted for safety technologies. Be sure to check out the following when looking at an SUV on the used car lot.
- Buy a recent vehicle. Older models were constructed before people were aware of the possible safety issues.
- Look for an SUV that’s relatively short. This will help eliminate blind spots.
- Check to make sure it’s built on a sedan or hybrid chassis, instead of a full-scale truck chassis. The sedan-based cars are far less prone to cornering problems, unlike earlier versions.
- Always check the car’s model and year against consumer reviews, such as in Consumer Reports. They’ll have lists of recalls, possible problems that may crop up, as well as in-depth reviews of the cars themselves.
- For used cars, make sure they have safety features like ESC, and have the ESC tested to ensure there are no problems.
- And, of course, give it a test drive. After all, even a car that looks good on paper may not measure up in real life.
Above all, there’s no technology that can take the place of safe driving. Remember to respect the rules of the road, and always keep in the forefront of your mind that you’re not the only car on the road. Simply being polite and safe on the road will keep you healthy…no matter what car you’re driving.