Originally Posted by Buffy Summers
So how many SUVs would you say can really go offroad?. It's not a priority. If you want or need go offroad get a Landy or the Mercedes-Benz G Class. Period.
If an SUV can't even go offroad, why does it have high ground clearance, massive wheel wells, and poor handling/braking/acceleration/response? It's like getting the worst of both worlds. On top of that, SUVs are complete death traps.
SUVS: How Detroit Fleeced the General Public
If you’ve been in America in the past 15 years, you’ve seen them. Sporty, youthful, and tough
looking, SUVs are some of the most popular vehicle choices at the moment. But why is that? Are they
really all they are cracked up to be? Are they really safer for their occupants? In the 1950s, the station
wagon was king. Essentially a large car with extra seats, the wagon provided room for the family, and at
the time, decent safety, handling, braking, and acceleration. Then in the early 1980s, Chrysler released
the minivan, which all but replaced the station wagon as the standard family vehicle. Eventually, the
stigma of the station wagon soon transferred to the minivan, labeling all minivan drivers as suburban
married folks, soccer moms, and generally boring. However, in the late 80s to early 90s there became
another choice. The SUV. It certainly looked more exciting than a minivan, with its high chassis, large,
knobby tires, rugged, aggressive bodywork, and outdoorsy image. Many SUVs offered larger engines,
which offered better acceleration than a minivan, and they were designed to travel offroad, and tow large
capacities, which is also exciting. Minivans can not offroad very well, nor can they tow large capacities,
so clearly the choice for an exciting customer was the SUV. It was also taller, bigger, and heavier,
which must mean it’s safer too, thought the public (For years, American automakers had been trying to
push back the fuel mileage regulations mandated by the government, claiming that making vehicles
meet the standards would make them less safe in an accident, which is simply untrue). But is this true?
Are SUVs safer than minivans or passenger cars? Or have you been fleeced by Detroit?
SUVs were really only offered by the big three (Chrysler, Ford, Chevy), due to a 25% markup on
all imported trucks and utility vehicles, called the “Chicken Tax”. This made European and Japanese
competition non-existent in the SUV segment. This lack of competition caused another problem later
on, which was caused by the American auto unions pressuring Washington into separating the safety and
emissions standards. Unions and company representatives pressured bureaucrats by telling them that
forcing Chevrolet, Ford, and Chrysler to meet these standards with not only their cars, but also their
trucks/SUVs would cause them to cut jobs. The last thing any Washington official wants is to be
responsible for lost jobs, because they will not be reelected. Thus, the safety and pollution standards
were soon “lax” for SUVs and trucks, while cars still had to adhere to them.
Again, this was another huge advantage for Detroit. They could use large, powerful engines that
were originally designed over 30 years ago, without consequence. These rather archaic designs
provided the public with impressive power, yet were not very efficient, barely passed emissions and
received rather horrid mpg (miles per gallon). To make matters worse, there was a loophole in the
CAFÉ (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) regulations that allowed the big three to build SUVs just
over 8,500lbs, and they would no longer be required to meet ANY safety or emissions standards (Café).
The Hummer H2 and Ford Excursion are a few that come to mind; neither were ever required to be
crash-tested and neither affect Ford or GM’s average MPG rating. For the record, the H2 receives 9
mpg in mixed city driving, worse than a 1968 Charger R/T (consumer reports). In summary, it’s quite
apparent that the entire legal system behind SUVs is pretty screwed up. Ignoring that, what about the
The majority of SUV drivers claim that they’re safer in an SUV, but unfortunately, they’re
completely and totally wrong. They are not safer. In fact, it’s generally the opposite. How could that
possibly be? The same features that make SUVs good at driving off the road are exactly what make
them so dangerous on the road. First, the SUV frame itself is usually very stiff, and heavily reinforced.
It’s designed like this not only to support the increased weight of the large vehicle, but also to withstand
the abuse of shocks, jolts, and stresses caused by driving off-road. This heavy-duty frame also lacks
crumple zones, or areas designed to deform and compress in an accident, dispersing vast amounts of
energy, and slowing down the occupants a bit more gradually. Instead, this stiff frame doesn’t crumple,
and the shocks and jolts of even a minor accident are transferred directly into the passenger
compartment. A car doesn’t do this. The average car is designed to sacrifice itself to save its occupants,
by crumpling as much as possible, excluding the passenger compartment. SUVs are not designed like
this; they’re designed to withstand impacts without crumpling. This makes them more hazardous than
A close friend of mine drives a luxury SUV, and was rear-ended by a Pontiac grand am traveling
about 10-15mph. The grand am was totaled, but the luxury SUV was barely damaged. However, all
was not so well for the occupants. The woman driving the grand am was shaken up, but healthy, while
my friend driving the SUV was not so lucky. The sharp jolt of energy during the impact gave him
severe whiplash, and he’s still doing physical therapy to this day because of neck pains. Had he been
driving a car, things would probably have turned out differently: both vehicles would have absorbed the
energy by crumpling, and both drivers would have been relatively unharmed.
“For example, if the driver of a 2002 Cadillac Escalade—one of the largest SUVs on the
market—crashed into an unyielding surface at thirty-five miles an hour, he would have a 16%
chance of sustaining a life-threatening head injury and a 20% chance of receiving a life-
threatening chest injury.71 That same driver in a Ford Windstar—a large minivan with a similar
seating capacity to the Escalade—would have only a 2% chance of a life-threatening head
injury, and only a 4% chance of a life-threatening chest injury.72 Thus, the driver of the
Escalade would be five to eight times more likely to die when hitting a fixed object at a
moderate speed than the driver of the minivan.”(Case, 9)
Another way SUVs are inferior to cars are
general performance specifications. Generally,
SUVs are slower than the average car, and offer
inferior braking and handling (see Image 1). Some
of this is due to the increased mass of the SUV, but
it’s also the suspension design in general. Most auto
manufacturers try to convince the public that they
make the toughest, most capable vehicles off the
road. They do this, because if an editor claims that
the new Maybatsu Monstrosity is the most capable
off-road vehicle, the majority of the public will try
to buy that one. What is puzzling about this
phenomenon is that less than 5% of all SUVs ever
go off the road (suv.org), which means 95% of them
never leave the pavement.
Despite this, manufacturers often design SUVs that have suspensions with massive wheel travel,
and throw on knobby tires with tall sidewalls. Why? Because having a suspension that can climb over
anything, knobby tires for increased traction in loose surfaces, and tall sidewalls that protect the rim and
conform to rocks and ruts are all positive attributes while off-roading. Unfortunately, the very same
designs that excel off the road are detrimental on the road. The knobby tires, while good in sand, mud,
and dirt, reduce the contact patch of the vehicle on smooth, hard surfaces such as asphalt and concrete.
This means less traction, reduced braking, acceleration and handling abilities, and more road noise.
Large suspension travel and tall sidewalls equates to poor handling, response, braking and acceleration
due to massive weight transferring between sides and ends of the vehicle. This ultra compliant
suspension, along with a high center of gravity, also means SUVs are much more likely to roll over.
Rollovers are by far the biggest danger of driving an SUV (see Image 2). “In 2002, statistics
showed that nearly 11,000 people died in rollover accidents, with 61% of SUV rollovers accounting for
the fatalities. The number of people killed in SUV rollovers has increased by 14% in the last year”
(suvrollovernews.com). The primary reason that rollovers are so deadly is that almost all SUVs suffer
from very weak roofs.
“Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 216, Roof Crush
Resistance, establishes a minimum requirement for roof strength to "reduce deaths and
injuries due to the crushing of the roof into the occupant compartment in rollover
crashes." This is a quasi-static test in which a rigid plate is pushed into the roof at a slow
rate. The roof must be strong enough to prevent the plate from moving 5 inches when
pushed at a force equal to 1_ times the weight of the vehicle. The test went into effect in
1973 and remained essentially unchanged until a proposal to modify it in 2005”
(Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Rollover and Roof Crush).
Unfortunately, that method of testing is extremely outdated, as during an actual rollover, it’s very
unlikely that the roof of a vehicle would receive a ‘slow and even’ impact. Most of the time, the vehicle
lands on a corner of the roof, which then collapses. Roof intrusion is the number one killer in SUVs, as
it intrudes directly into the passenger compartment in the most important area: The head and torso. The
Safety Analysis and Forensic Engineering (SAFE) group conducted a test in 2003 that dropped various
vehicles on their roofs to better simulate a real world rollover. The vehicles were suspended upside
down, and then lowered until one of their front A-pillars was in contact with the ground. The load was
then released, allowing the full weight of the vehicle to land on the roof, simulating a much more
realistic crash. While all vehicles had roofs that collapsed to some degree, the SUVs were by far the
worst. In the small 2-door hatchback group, the roof intruded about 17cm into the passenger
compartment. The roofs on the large and midsize SUVs intruded 20.3cm and 26.4cm respectively
(Inverted Drop Testing, 2).
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, passenger car deaths have risen 2%
since 1975, whereas SUV deaths have skyrocketed over 1000%. But wait, surely this can be explained
by the increased number of SUVs on the road since 1975, right? Wrong.
“In 1998, there were 130 million passenger cars registered in the USA, and 16
million SUVs. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were
119,000 car rollovers and 36,000 SUV rollovers that year. That means that for every 100,000
vehicles, 91 cars rolled over -- and 225 SUVs, a figure almost three times as high. When it
Image 3: Distribution of Side Impact Fatalities
comes to deaths, the disparity is even greater; for every 100,000 vehicles there are 3.4 deaths
in car rollovers, but 10.1 in SUV rollovers (a figure over three times as high). As to the rarity
of rollover accidents, once again we must look at NHTSA figures. For the 130 million cars,
there were 29,000 fatal accidents in 1998 -- a death rate of 22 per 100,000 vehicles. For the 16
million SUVs, there were 4,500 fatalities, which means a death rate of 28 per 100,000”
It is quite apparent from any data that SUVs are simply not as safe as the passenger cars they are
replacing. However, perhaps SUV owners are aware of all this information, and choose that having the
‘macho look’ of off-road ability is more important to them then their own safety. However, have these
owners considered the safety of the rest of the population? Federal information shows that although
light trucks and SUVs account for roughly one third of registered vehicles, they also account for the
majority of fatalities in vehicle to vehicle accidents. Of the 5,259 deaths caused when SUVs and light
trucks crashed into cars in 1996, 81% of the deaths were occupants in the car (see images 3 & 4). In
multiple vehicle crashes, the occupants of the car are four times more likely to be killed than the
occupants of the SUV. In a side impact collision with an SUV, car occupants are 27 times more likely
to die (SUV Safety Concerns). Another problem with most SUVs is the bumper height. During a crash
with a passenger car, the SUV’s tall bumper may ride up and over the bumper of a passenger vehicle,
negating the safety built into that of a car. While raising car bumpers would be an easy solution, the
problem is that cars are regulated to have bumpers at a certain height, but SUVs are allowed to have
them much higher. In a side-impact collision, the bumper of a large SUV can be so high that it will
completely miss the door of a passenger car, leaving only the side windows to protect the passenger
car’s occupants from the 4,000+ lb offroad vehicle about to crash into it. Also, pedestrian safety comes
to mind. The taller the bumper, the more likely a vehicle-pedestrian accident will result in pushing the
pedestrian down and under the vehicle, greatly reducing the chances of the pedestrian to survive.
This safety concern is not only limited to crashes, but also to headlight levels. Large SUVs have
headlights mounted 36 to 39 inches above the ground - the same height as the side mirror on a small car.
The glare from SUVs' headlights can appear to other drivers as bright as high beams. Glare can be 10 to
20 times worse than recommended levels when headlights are at the height of a driver's eyes or side
mirror, according to a study by the Society of Automotive Engineers (Bradsher, NYT). Also, the large
size of most SUVs make them difficult to see around, and because of the height of the vehicles
themselves, the windshield and rear window are also very high. This creates a problem for drivers
behind the SUV, as unless you’re in an equally tall vehicle, you cannot see in front of them. Even if
most SUV owners are aware of the safety concerns to themselves, do they ever consider that they risk
the safety of others? The lack of forward visibility reduces the speed of drivers following behind them,
and increases the following distance. Both of these actions spurn a perpetual slowdown in every car
behind them, eventually causing the entire transit system to operate slower. If more vehicles could see
ahead of them, traffic could move faster, with less driver frustration.
Anywhere you look, it turns out that SUVs are not nearly as safe as passenger cars in accidents,
mostly because of the design of the SUV itself. However, there’s another factor to consider, the type of
Image 4: Distribution of Frontal-Frontal Impact Fatalities
person who buys an SUV in the first place. According to research conducted by the nation’s leading
automakers, SUV buyers tend to be
“Insecure and vain. They are frequently nervous about their marriages and
uncomfortable about parenthood. They often lack confidence in their driving skills. Above all,
they are apt to be self-centered and self-absorbed, with little interest in their neighbors and
communities. They are more restless, more sybaritic, and less social than most Americans are.
They tend to like fine restaurants a lot more than off-road driving, seldom go to church and have
limited interest in doing volunteer work to help others”(Bradsher, 287).
Chrysler's market research director, David Bostwick notes something else, "If you have a sport
utility, you can have the smoked windows, put the children in the back and pretend you're still single"
(Bradsher, 362). Even more alarming, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
researched aggressive driving and related fatalities on our roadways. What they found was that the top
twenty vehicles associated with road rage or aggressive driving fatalities were ALL SUVs or light trucks
(see image 5).
Ranking: Top 15