Crashes with SUVs can be deadly

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When purchasing a new vehicle, most families rely on safety ratings published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and other organizations to make sure that they will have adequate protection in the event of a car accident. A new study out of the University of Buffalo shows, however, that these safety ratings may not be as useful as many people believe. When it comes to determining whether a vehicle offers protection in an accident, vehicle type is perhaps the most important consideration.

Smaller vehicles not as safe

Researchers examined data from the federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System, a database of information about car accidents nationwide, collected from 1995 to 2010. Specifically, they looked at head-on collisions between SUVs and smaller, lighter passenger vehicles. The drivers of cars were four times more likely to die in these sorts of crashes, even when their vehicle had a better crash rating than the SUV involved in the accident. If the SUV involved in the crash had a better rating, then the driver of the car was 10 times more likely to die. Independent of safety ratings, the drivers of smaller cars were approximately seven times more likely to die in these sorts of crashes than SUV drivers.

SUVs may be safest vehicles on the road

On the one hand, the findings of the study prove what many people would likely guess: a driver is more likely to be injured in an accident when his vehicle is smaller and lighter than the other involved vehicle. On the other hand, the study proved that weight was not the only important consideration. In fact, in crashes where the SUV involved was approximately the same weight as the passenger vehicle, SUV drivers ended up being safer because of the height of their vehicles. In many cases, the SUV would simply ride up the hood of the smaller car.

In the opinion of the study's authors, large SUVs are now some of the safest cars on U.S. roads, simply because their size and weight provide them with an advantage. The researchers worry that people who choose smaller cars based on their safety ratings may, in fact, have a false sense of security about whether they will be protected in a crash. When people are purchasing a new car, the authors suggest that they consider not only safety ratings, but also how well the vehicle might stand up in a crash with an SUV.