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Roll-Overs and SUVs

From a story in the Economist this week:

SUVs [are being attacked] for their poor safety record from the head of America's road-safety body. Jeffrey Runge, a former emergency-room physician who became administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2001, said this week that roll-over crashes accounted for 3% of car accidents in America but 32% of deaths. SUVs' occupants are three times more likely to die from their vehicle rolling over than are the occupants of saloon cars. In 2001, there was a 22% increase in roll-over accidents.

Car companies have long known that one reason why customers choose chunky SUVs and pick-ups is that they feel they are safer in such vehicles. The companies also know that this widespread belief is nonsense. It is true that large cars are safer than small ones for the occupants. But large cars which do not have a particular propensity to roll over are inherently safer than SUVs.

I drive a compact SUV, the Ford Escape. I bought it while living in Seattle -- I wanted a relatively inexpensive car with four-wheel drive for heading up to the ski slopes. Here in North Carolina, it's rare that I engage the four-wheel drive, but when I do, I feel safer. Could it be that my passengers and I are generally less safe in an SUV?

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