Myths and Realities about SUVs
(From High And Mighty)

Myth: SUVs are safer than cars.
Reality: SUVs are no safer than cars for their occupants, and pose much greater dangers for other road users. SUV occupants die slightly more often than car occupants in crashes. The occupant death rate in crashes per million SUVs on the road is 6 percent higher than the death rate per million cars. The occupant death rate for the largest SUVs, which tend to be driven by middle-aged families, is 8 percent higher than the occupant death rate for minivans and upper-midsize cars like the Ford Taurus and Toyota Camry, which are typically driven by similar families. SUV occupants are much more likely than car occupants to die in a rollover, which accounts for about 1,000 more deaths a year than if the same people had been in cars. In collisions with other vehicles, however, SUVs are nearly three times as likely as cars to kill other drivers, inflicting another 1,000 unnecessary deaths a year among motorists who would have survived if hit instead by cars of the same weight. SUVs also contribute much more than cars to air pollution, causing up to 1,000 extra deaths a year among people with respiratory ailments.

Myth: SUVs are good choices for young drivers.

Reality: Parents who care about their children should not let them drive SUVs. Compared to older drivers, teens’ involvement in multivehicle crashes is above average but their involvement in single-vehicle crashes is far above average, presumably because of their inexperience. SUVs are the worst vehicles to be driving for anyone concerned about single-vehicle crashes. They have limited crumple zones, providing less protection than a car in an impact with a solid roadside object like a bridge abutment. Worse, SUVs are several times more likely to roll over than a car. Rollovers are the main cause of paralysis in crashes and paralysis can be an especially heavy burden for a young person to bear.
Parents should also discourage their children from riding in SUVs driven by other young people. Not only are SUVs unsafe, but insurance industry statistics show the risk of a fatal crash increases swiftly the more occupants there are in a vehicle driven by a teen, probably because inexperienced drivers are more easily distracted.
Young people should drive midsize or full-size sedans, which are unlikely to flip over, provide ample crumple zones and do not pose nearly the risk of an SUV to other motorists.

Myth: Rollovers happen to people who drive recklessly but are of little concern for responsible drivers.
Reality: While inexperienced drivers are more likely to flip vehicles than experienced drivers, rollovers can happen to anyone. Federal research, accepted by the auto industry, shows that 92 percent of all rollovers begin when a vehicle is "tripped." This can occur when the vehicle strikes a curb, guardrail or another, lower-riding vehicle. Tripping can also occur when the wheels on one side of the vehicle pass over a high-friction surface, like the mud or gravel of a soft road shoulder. While reckless drivers are more likely to trip their vehicles, any motorist can wind up in an emergency situation, such as swerving to avoid a pedestrian, in which tripping is a risk.

Myth: If a drunk driver starts drifting across the centerline toward you, you are better off in an SUV than in a car.
Reality: On a narrow, crowded or slippery road with no shoulder, it may not be possible to swerve out of the drunk’s path. But drunken driving tends to be particularly a problem at night, when roads are less congested. You have a better chance of maneuvering out of a drunk’s path in an agile car than in a tall, lumbering SUV, and you are less likely to roll over in a car than in an SUV if you swerve across the shoulder. If you are in a collision, an SUV will typically provide more protection than a car if it stays upright because of its greater weight and because its height may allow it to override bumpers and crush the softer passenger compartment of the drunk’s vehicle. But SUVs are more likely to roll over in multivehicle collisions as well as single-vehicle crashes.

Myth: Vehicles with all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive have more effective brakes than two-wheel-drive vehicles.

Reality: All-wheel drive or four-wheel drive simply means that the engine is supplying power to turn all four wheels. These systems help a vehicle accelerate. But this has nothing to do with braking effectiveness. Indeed, all vehicles have brakes on all four wheels. Taller, heavier vehicles, including most SUVs, are harder to stop than shorter, lighter vehicles, including most cars. Because SUVs are less likely to slip while accelerating on wet or icy surfaces, their drivers are easily lulled into forgetting that they cannot stop any better than nearby cars. The most important factor in braking and steering is the surface area of contact that the tires have against the road. Many SUV tires actually have less contact with paved roads than car tires because they have deep, macho-looking grooves that are designed to let them sink deep into mud or snow to harder ground below.

Myth: SUVs must be safe vehicles because the overall rate of traffic deaths per 100 million miles driven in the United States has inched down during the last decade even as SUV sales have soared.
Reality: The SUV problem has snuck up on America because the percentage of all registered vehicles in the nation that are SUVs has been rising by less than a percentage point a year. Drunk driving has plunged, seat-belt use has soared and air bags have become widespread over the last decade, three changes that should have produced big improvements in American traffic safety. Yet the deadliness of the nation’s roads has barely changed. Nearly 42,000 Americans still die on the nation’s roads each year and 3 million are injured, making traffic accidents one of the nation’s biggest public health problems.


Myth: Riding up high improves visibility and allows the driver to anticipate trouble ahead.
Reality: Like sitting on a thick phone directory at a theater, driving a tall vehicle does improve a motorist’s view, but at the expense of those driving behind. Drivers of tall vehicles are able to avoid some crashes by seeing dangerous situations in advance. But they also increase their odds of rolling over, with all the risks of death or paralysis that this implies. Tall vehicles are no safer than short vehicles while putting others in danger.

Myth: The safety problems of SUVs are "growing pains" that will diminish as safer models come on the market in the next few years.
Reality:
Small steps are being taken, like installing hollow steel bars below the front bumpers of SUVs to reduce the danger they pose to lower-riding cars. But even the newest SUVs are likely to prove less stable than cars and more dangerous to other road users. The biggest problems still lie ahead. The majority of the SUVs on the road today, including three-quarters of the full-sized SUVs, were built in the last five years and are still being driven mainly by middle-aged families. As these vehicles age, their mechanical parts will begin to deteriorate and they will become more affordable for young drivers and for drunks, who tend to choose inexpensive vehicles. At the same time, the proportion of vehicles on the road that are SUVs is set to nearly double in the next decade or so. SUVs make up only 10 percent of registered vehicles now, but this is likely to catch up eventually with the 17 percent of new vehicle sales that are SUVs


Myth: Only an SUV can provide the room that families with children need.
Reality:
Midsize and large cars provide the same seating room as midsize SUVs. The trunks of the larger cars often have just as much floor space for groceries, although they are not as tall as the cargo areas of SUVs. Minivans, which are built like tall cars, offer seating for seven as well as tall cargo areas. Very few families need the slightly greater interior space offered by the very largest SUVs.

Myth: SUV air pollution does not matter because they are less dirty than the cars of a generation ago.
Reality:
Big SUVs are allowed to emit up to 1.1 grams per mile of smog-causing nitrogen oxides, which is less than the 3 to 4 grams a mile from cars of the early 1960s but still a lot worse than today’s cars, which are only allowed to emit up to 0.2 grams per mile. The air quality in most American cities has been improving, but further improvements require constant effort. Before leaving office in 2001, President Clinton issued regulations requiring that cars and SUVs emit no more than 0.07 grams per mile by 2009, a rule that ought not to be relaxed.


Myth (version 1): The rise of SUVs is a principal cause of global warming.
Myth (version 2): SUVs are unimportant to global warming.
Reality:
The truth lies somewhere in between. Most scientists say that human activity is helping to tip the balance of nature toward a warming of the Earth’s climate, the so-called greenhouse effect, but the extent of the human contribution is uncertain. Automobiles emit 19.5 pounds of carbon dioxide, a global-warming gas, for each gallon of gasoline they burn, as carbon from the gasoline is combined with oxygen from the air passing through the grille. SUVs, with their gas-guzzling ways, account for far less than 1 percent of all human emissions of global-warming gases. But SUVs are nevertheless an especially wasteful contributor to global warming. Switching from a midsize car to a large SUV for a year consumes as much energy as leaving a refrigerator door open for six years. Americans’ attachment to their SUVs has helped make it very hard for presidents to commit the United States to steep reductions in total emissions of global-warming gases, and this has crippled international efforts to address global warming.

Myth: SUVs need to have primitive, gas-guzzling engines to provide the necessary power for towing large objects.
Reality:
Automakers’ lobbyists have used this argument for years to fight tougher fuel-economy rules, but many of their own engineers disagree. Many SUV engines still have just two valves for each cylinder, an antiquated, gas-guzzling design often defended by lobbyists as necessary for providing extra power. But with careful design of the combustion chamber, engines with four valves for each cylinder can be very effective for towing. "You can take a four-valve engine and soup it up at the low end," said Tanvir Ahmad, GM’s engine director. Some of the newest SUVs on the market have four-valve engines, including the full-size Toyota Sequoia and GM’s midsize Chevrolet Trailblazer, GMC Envoy and Oldsmobile Bravada. Using four valves instead of two not only produces an immediate improvement in fuel economy but allows the introduction of further technologies that are just emerging from laboratories that save even more gasoline, like variable valve timing. The problem is that designing new combustion chambers is very expensive. Compared to two-valve engines, four-valve engines also have more parts, making them slightly more costly to manufacture. Automakers have been reluctant to invest the money in switching existing SUV models to four-valve designs. "I don’t think there is any conversion to four-valve that is cheap," Ahmad said.

Myth: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
Reality:
For the truly self-centered person who cares nothing about hurting other people in crashes, obscuring other drivers’ views of the road, making smog worse and contributing to global warming, this might seem a viable option. But such drivers need to be aware that they are not improving their own safety, and must endure the aggravation of driving a vehicle that is harder to drive and harder to park than a car.

 

 

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