A lot of people associate SUVs as a safer way of road transportation as compared to hatchbacks and sedans. Now auto enthusiasts may ridicule the growing tend of SUVs across the globe but truth to be told, a new study says if you’re driving a car that’s hit by another vehicle, you’re 28 per cent more likely to die if the other vehicle is an SUV. That’s right, as the new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety states. Putting down the study’s finding in a more accurate way, late-model SUVs are 28% more likely to kill the driver of a car made between 2013 and 2016 than a car-to-car collision. However, this is actually quite an improvement as previous studies by the institute tell that the figure is down from 132% from 1989-92 and 59% from 2009-12.
Nonetheless, the chances of being killed are still very high if you are driving a car and it collides with a pickup truck. According to the study, pickup trucks are still 159 per cent more likely to kill you if they hit you, something which is almost the same from 1989-1992 when they were 158 per cent more likely to kill other drivers. This rate has declined from a peak of 212 per cent from 2005-08 and 170% from 2009-12. Talking about the study, it took into account the collisions from 1989 to 2016 involving 1- to 4-year-old vehicles. According to the latest data, the risk from vehicle incompatibility had been significantly reduced in SUVs by 2016.
What is vehicular safety incompatibility?
Simply put, cars (sedans and hatchbacks) are usually lighter and sit low. SUVs (and pickup trucks and crossovers) are heavier and stand high. So in impacts, the SUV hits the weak parts of a car.
The latest study by IIHS was done in a bid to update its own 2011 study, which found a decline in fatalities caused by design incompatibilities. The improvements in crashworthiness of small cars and minivans is a result of their stronger structures, the addition of side airbags and electronic stability control along with a lot of other safety equipment and features.
If an SUV/trucks bumper is level with a car’s window, the collision is going to result in the SUV hitting hardest on one of the weakest sections of the car. For the same, modern SUVs have lower bumpers and are designed in a way to avoid the situation described above.
The latest SUVs have been designed in a way so that they come in contact with the crumple zones of smaller hatchbacks and sedans rather than going over them. However, it still not enough as you can see. SUVs still remain a danger to car drivers despite the improvements.
The biggest challenge, though, continues to be the weight of these SUVs and pickup trucks. The more a vehicle weighs, the more is the momentum it carries when moving and that results in fatal crashes. For the same, a few manufacturers are now looking at lighter materials like high-strength aluminium instead of steel to reduce the weight of SUVs. Note that the current trend around the world regarding SUVs is that crossovers are more popular than actual SUVs. Crossovers look like an SUV but have modern monocoque chassis and lower ride height along with more car-like dynamics. They are also less fatal in crashes to the vehicle on the other side.
Then comes the additional accidents that SUVs get into, again due to their design. As they stand higher with a higher center of gravity, an SUV can lose control earlier than a low sedan or hatch, and can roll over resulting in injuries to passengers.
The Indian scenario
While the general principles remain true, Indian hatchbacks and SUVs are both smaller. And average speeds are lower. Most of what we call SUVs in India are not full-size SUVs or full-size pickup trucks the way US understands it. Our vehicles, both hatches and sedans and SUVs are much smaller. Most of our SUVs are crossovers, and not much heavier than cars too. Older SUVs in the market – as they were not designed with safety in mind per se – could be more dangerous though. End of the day, as the saying goes, the biggest safety feature of a car is the driver – and careful law-abiding and alert drivers have a much higher chance of staying safe on our roads.