SUV vs Sedan/Hatchback – Which vehicle can save your life?

Over the past few years, hatchbacks and sedans have gained a reputation for being safe cars to be in. Global safety agencies around the world have reinforced this by awarding many smaller cars excellent crash test ratings, while most large SUVs have done poorly when it comes to the outright ratings. This is one part of the story. On the other hand, what happens when a large SUV collides head on with a small sedan? This happens.

And the story is similar when a large SUV T-bones a hatchback.

Usually, the heavier vehicle is safer. But not always

Physics rule the world we live in. In an head-to-head battle between a light and a heavy vehicle, the heavier vehicle, which carries more momentum is very likely win the battle hands down.

What if the lighter, smaller vehicle has higher safety rating? Does that save you?

For instance, the Honda Jazz that is sold in Australia has received a perfect five star rating from Australia-NCAP, the safety testing agency of that country. The Mahindra XUV500, on the other hand, receives just four stars. Despite this, in a head-on collission between the Jazz and the XUV500, the Jazz is likely to be worse off and so could be the case with the passengers in the hatchback. Here’s a video that explains why this happens.

And this is why we feel more comfortable and secure sitting tall in a large, heavy SUV than say a low slung hatchback. A big vehicle also feels safer, regardless of whether it has safety active and passive feature or not. But SUVs have their own problems to contend with too, which in this case is rolling over.

Apart from crashes, which vehicle keeps you safe?

You can easily do about 80 Kph around a bend in a low slung hatchback such as the Ford Figo. Try the same with the Mahindra Scorpio, and there’s a fat chance that you’ll back off before the SUV actually gives up. If you try to be too brave for your own good, a tall SUV such as the Scorpio is likely to simply roll over and say, thank you very much.

In rollovers, lighter vehicles are generally safer

And in case of a rollover, a sedan or a hatchback with active and passive safety features is likely to protect the occupants much better than an SUV. Why? The reason again is momentum, which is mass times velocity. A SUV rolling over carries much larger momentum than say lighter cars such as sedans and hatchbacks. In this case, the large momentum will put more force on the SUV and its occupants, and this is where a safe structure with passive safety will come into play.

In head-on collisions, SUV occupant is much safer

All said and done, in a head-on or a side-on collission, occupants of the larger vehicle are likely to fare better than those in the smaller vehicle. And a University of Buffalo study tells us just this. In a head on collision between a car and an SUV, the odds of death are 7.6 times higher than that for the SUV driver. 

How to increase your chances of survival?

In a direct, head-on crash, the heavier vehicle is safer, yes. But what can you do if you do not want a heavy, big SUV?

Get a safe hatchback or sedan. A hatchback or sedan with a high safety rating will be definitely safer than a similar car with a low safety rating. So, irrespective of what vehicle type you buy, choose the safest option. In India, that often means choosing the vehicle with multiple airbags and ABS. The extra price might be worth your life one day.

Then, a huge part of it is following safe driving habits. A safe driver in a safe hatchback is always better than an unsafe driver in a safe hatchback. A lot of your safety is up to you. Always wear your seat belts, be alert and aware, do not text or drink and drive, and do not get distracted by passengers in the car. Expect pedestrians and other road users to make mistakes, and be prepared. Be aware of your own limits, and the limits of your car.