SUVs No Longer A Threat To Cars But Trucks Remain Deadly

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Study shows that SUVs no longer pose an outsize risk to car occupants in a collision.

One of the reasons cited by owners for buying an SUV is the feeling of safety they provide. Conversely, regular passenger cars can leave people feeling less safe when it comes to the possibility of an impact with an SUV. Like many feelings when it comes to danger, it's just a matter of perspective. At least it is now after a new study reported by the Insurance Institute Of Highway Safety (IIHS) has come to the conclusion that SUVs, such as the Range Rover and Jeep Cherokee that started the trend towards SUVs, no longer pose an outsize risk to car occupants in a crash.

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"For a long time, the front ends of SUVs were so high that they bypassed the energy-absorbing structures of the fronts of cars," says Joe Nolan, IIHS senior vice president for vehicle research and a co-author of the study. "The changes prompted by the voluntary commitment largely resolved that issue."

Nolan also notes that along with improvements in SUVs when it comes to energy-absorbing structures, small cars that used to typically have the worst crash ratings have improved dramatically. However, there is still one big risk to both cars and SUVs: Colliding with a pickup truck.

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The death rate of car occupants in crashes with pickup trucks, when compared to the rate in crashes with other cars, increased steadily through the end of last century up until 2008. From 2008, it has improved but there's still a large gap in survival rates. According to the IIHS, 2013-16, trucks were 2.5 times as likely to be involved in a crash that was fatal for car occupants than with another car or minivan.

The study also found that the weight of trucks and SUVs doesn't protect the occupants of those vehicles like it once did. Nolan puts that down to the increased amount and sophistication of safety systems as well as the structure of the vehicles themselves. However, the weight of trucks remains a danger to occupants of passenger cars and SUVs.

"This suggests that reducing the weight of the heaviest vehicles for better fuel economy - for example, by switching from steel to aluminum - can improve safety for other road users without sacrificing occupant protection," says Nolan.

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