For years, there were two types of drivers in the U.S.: those who thought SUVs were the best invention ever, and those who viewed the larger vehicles as dangerous menaces on the road.
When sport utility vehicles were introduced to the American public over a decade ago, consumers loved the feeling of safety they experienced when sitting up higher in a larger vehicle. However, many of those vehicles actually decreased the safety of driving smaller cars, when you happened to be involved in a collision with an SUV.
Here’s the good news: in 2003, automakers and regulators got together and decided to do something about it.
Today, most SUVs are less hazardous to drivers of cars and minivans than they were a decade ago. That’s reflected in data compiled by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Back in 2000 and 2001, drivers of cars who were involved in crashes with SUVs were substantially more likely to die than in similar crashes which occurred in 2008 or 2009. Only newer cars were examined in each study in order to reflect the effectiveness of auto safety features during the time period.
Much of the drop in driver deaths can be attributed to a change in SUV design. The areas of SUVs which were designed to absorb the shock of a collision were physically lowered to better align them with the comparable structures found in passenger cars.
Here’s what we’re talking about. Notice the difference in bumper heights between this car and this SUV:
Imagine if that blue SUV slammed into that silver car. The crash-protection area of the SUV would probably be aligned with a more vulnerable area of the car – which would often result in more injuries and deaths to those inside the car.
Now, let’s compare the two vehicles above with those in the photo below:
The crash-absorption region on the white SUV sits roughly at the same height of the corresponding area on the black car. Therefore, if this SUV and car were to collide, both drivers would be more likely to be protected by their vehicles’ respective safety structure designs.
But auto design changes weren’t made only to SUVs. Passenger cars began including stronger construction in their frames, as well as side airbags that protected the driver’s head and body. These improvements were as responsible for the drop in car-vs.-SUV deaths as the repositioning of SUVs’ crash-absorption areas.
Thanks to automakers’ responsiveness and technological advancements in safety, today’s SUVs are safer not only for the people inside them, but for every other person on the road. Perhaps the most hopeful aspect to this entire story is that fact that the federal government and the private sector actually worked together to improve the lives of the average consumer — a rare feat in today’s political and business climate.