Here at Quoted, we’ve talked a lot about vehicle safety, and a simple Google search can uncover piles of info about the crash ratings and safety features of every type of car on the road. But we wondered, when the safety of sport utility vehicles, as a category, are compared with traditional sedans (also as a category, of course) which comes out on top? So we asked the experts: From the top of the line to the bottom, foreign and domestic, new and old, which type of vehicle really protects you and yours best?
BACK TO SCIENCE CLASS
We all know SUVs are larger (and heavier) than sedans, but we wanted to know what that really means in terms of safety. Richard Rowe from TopSpeed spelled it out for us: “Bigger and heavier objects always transfer more energy to smaller and lighter ones. That’s why a golf club sends a golf ball flying instead of just bouncing off of it. The same thing is true for vehicles — only in this case, the “golf club” might be a Ford Expedition, and the “golf ball” a Smart Car.” Rowe clarified, somewhat grimly, that the golf ball-car comparison isn’t quite accurate since cars are hollow containers. Therefore, when an SUV collides with a sedan, the visual looks something more like a golf club hitting an empty soda can: the club will move the can, but only after crushing it first. “That’s why,” Rowe told us, “In any given collision between a car and an SUV, the driver and passengers in the SUV are 4 to 7 times more likely to walk away than the driver of the car.”
The story changes with equally matched vehicles. Two tiny Smart cars carry less inertia, says Rowe, so when they collide, both drivers have a good chance of walking away. The same cannot be said for SUVs, which Rowe described as a “clash of titans.” SUVs are much heavier, and therefore will transfer more energy in a crash, increasing the odds that neither car’s occupants will survive.
THE SAFETY BOTTOM LINE
Rowe says, “SUVs are truly fantastic at protecting kids. Compared to a similarly proportioned but lighter and lower minivan, SUVs are practically armored personnel carriers. And that’s a good thing, since SUVs are more likely to get into accidents than cars.”
To quote another statistic, Jordan Perch from DMV.com reports that a recent study from the University of Buffalo showed that in a head-on collision between a car and an SUV, the driver of the car is 7.6 times more likely to be killed than the driver of the SUV. On the other hand, says Perch, “SUV’s are much more likely to roll over than sedans because of their higher center of gravity, which is an important fact to consider, since rollovers have higher fatality rate than other types of accidents.”
Michael Harley, chief analyst at AutoWeb told Quoted, “It’s always best to choose a newer vehicle over an older model, as advancements in safety technology help late-model vehicles avoid many common crashes due to inclement weather, blind spots, or driver distraction.”
DIFFERENT STROKES FOR DIFFERENT FOLKS
We wondered if different types of drivers would do better in a certain kind of vehicle. For instance, it seems kids are safer in an SUV, but what about the elderly? Or teen drivers?
Rowe believes that “Both teen drivers and the elderly are statistical human wrecking balls, and very likely to cause accidents. The socially responsible thing would be a compact car with all the best possible safety devices, good brakes and just enough power to safely merge into traffic. But, since self-preservation and the preservation of one’s offspring is kind of a thing for most people: SUVs will offer the best chance of surviving those inevitable mistakes.”
Harley agrees that teen drivers and drivers over 75 are at a higher risk for accidents. For these drivers, he therefore recommends the newest vehicle they can afford since they’re more likely to have the latest safety technology (including collision avoidance systems) and are more likely to meet the highest crash test standards.
Perch believes that elderly drivers fare better with sedans because they are easier to control, especially on turns.
SAFETY FEATURES FOR SUVs AND SEDANS
So, it seems that like most things in life (except for ice cream: always choose strawberry), there is no simple answer to the SUV versus sedan question: the answer of which is safest instead lies in each driver’s unique needs and situation. Still, our experts were able to offer advice about important safety features for each type of vehicle.
Rowe’s advice for drivers looking at SUVs: focus on the active safety devices. Look for “things like blind-spot warning systems, stability and traction control, adaptive cruise control, or even a radar-assisted automatic braking system like that offered by Mercedes. The idea here is to focus on not getting into accidents in the first place. Odds are good your SUV will survive a crash with anything else in the world — but the rest of the world will survive a bit better if you can keep your SUV from crashing into it. SUV safety is about preventing accidents.” Conversely, Rowe suggests that sedan buyers focus on passive safety devices—things that protect you during an accident: “high crash test ratings, lots of airbags, large crumple zones, active passenger restraints and all the other things we normally associate with surviving accidents.”
Perch emphasized that vehicle size and weight aren’t the only important safety factors. The latest safety features can play just as big of a role in a crash. “This means that a sedan equipped with anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control and side air bags can be just as safe as an SUV and protect its passengers in the event of a crash.”
Some final advice, from Rowe: “It’s best to drive a vehicle of the same type as those around you. If you live in an area filled with cars, drive a car. If everyone around you drives a massive SUV or pickup, then you’d better armor up. A Smart Car among SUVs is like a gerbil among elephants: It’s going to get squashed sooner or later.”
And as always, drive safe.