SUVs, Pickups Less Deadly to Car Passengers

SUVs and pickups aren’t as deadly to passengers of cars and minivans as they used to be, according to a new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

“Until recently, SUVs and pickups were more likely than cars or minivans of the same weight to be involved in crashes that killed occupants of other cars or minivans,” the nonprofit research group said in a statement Wednesday. “That’s no longer the case for SUVs, and for pickups the higher risk is much less pronounced than it had been.”

The group reported that in 2000-01 among 1- to 4-year-old vehicles weighing 3,000-3,499 pounds, SUVs were involved in crashes that killed car/minivan occupants at a rate of 44 deaths per million registered vehicle years. But by the end of the decade, the rate had dropped by nearly two-thirds.

So why are these vehicles less deadly? The researchers say improved crash protection in the cars and minivans including the addition of side airbags and stronger structures is one reason. Later-model SUVs and pickups were also designed with smaller vehicle impacts in mind — their front-ends have been aligned with the energy-absorbing structures of cars.

Designs prior to about 2005-06 mismatched cars and SUV/pickups, with the result that in an accident the larger vehicles would ride up over the smaller ones, causing more trauma to passengers.

“By working together, the automakers got life-saving changes done quickly,” says Joe Nolan, the Institute’s chief administrative officer and a co-author of the new study. “The new designs have made a big difference on the road.”