Safe Vs. Fuel Efficient: Does It Have To Be One Or The Other?


Do you remember the dramatic video of an SUV cornering and nearly falling over? Consumer Reports put that together back when SUVs were considered “death traps.” Car insurance rates went up for SUV-drivers as a result. But it seems that that time has come and gone, and now SUVs are the safest cars on the road.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety now says that SUVs are extremely safe, thanks to the addition of Electronic Stability Control (ESC). But how ironic; SUVs (also known as gas guzzlers) have been recognized as the safest cars, just in time for gas prices to go through the roof, and fuel-efficient, four-door minicars are among the most dangerous deathtraps. While SUVs average 28 deaths per 100,000, smaller cars average 82.

The common wisdom about SUVs turns out to be true: their size and weight does protect the driver in a crash. And, ironically, the size and popularity of SUVs are the problem for smaller cars: in collisions involving two or more cars, the death rate rose dramatically when a small car hit a larger one.

So, is it really a tradeoff? Can we only have safety if we’re willing to pay for it? Can we only have fuel efficiency if we risk our necks? Fortunately, the answer to both questions is “no.” You can drive an SUV and still save on gas…well, somewhat, anyway. How?

  • Buy a minivan. If you need a car to take kids around and haul groceries, etc., let go of the SUV and buy a minivan. They’re more fuel-efficient and, more importantly, safer, according to the IIHS study. Minivans had only 25 deaths per 100,000. You may feel a bit less rugged in a minivan, but what’s more important: your ego or your family’s safety?
  • Buy a hybrid SUV. While the mileage isn’t great compared to other hybrids, hybrid SUVs get far better mileage than their all-gasoline counterparts. For example, the Ford Escape Hybrid, the most fuel-efficient SUV, has a combined mileage of 32 mpg, and costs about $30,000. Other hybrids run between 20 and 25 combined mpg; while they may not have the records of a Prius, they can still save you quite a bit at the pump.
  • Reduce your driving in general, at least where you can. The best way to not get in a car crash is to…not be in a car. Cutting down your driving will also save on gas.
  • Take stock of your driving habits and ask yourself how safe they really are. Part of the reason there are so many accidents on the road is, pure and simple: the drivers. Overconfidence and bad habits kill more people than any make of car on the road.

At the end of the day, safety is fairly relative: car crashes are still unfortunately very common in the United States, and we all have to do our part to avoid being involved in them or causing them in the first place. If we all put safety first, the road will be a better place, no matter what we drive.

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