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David Mittleman
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SUVs Make Strides in Safety, Still Present Some Risks

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Sport utility vehicles have revolutionized the roadways. With their higher stance and substantial proportions, they provide many drivers with peace of mind amid often chaotic traffic conditions. Recently released SUV crash test results, however, suggest that beneath their rugged-looking exteriors, many SUVs are not as safe as they could be.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is a non-profit group that constantly investigates the effects of motor vehicle crashes and periodically releases informational reports. Although some models faired reasonably well, others can be dangerous under certain conditions. Four common SUVs were rated “marginal” or “poor” – the two lowest rankings – when a side-impact collision was simulated. Despite the availability of curtain airbags, testing showed that injuries to the ribs and internal organs were still possible in this type of crash.

Another well-known risk involving SUVs is the potential for rollover and ejection. Along with their higher ground clearance, SUVs also have higher centers of gravity. As a result, SUVs and trucks have less lateral stability, especially during evasive or aggressive driving maneuvers. Adding to the rollover risk is the fact that some SUVs may not be as structurally sound as necessary, particularly with regard to roof strength. A lesser-known, but equally tragic, threat posed by SUVs is their relatively large blind spots. Gaps in a driver’s vision are dangerous enough on the highway, but those threats are magnified in more populated areas, where children might be present without warning.

SUVs and trucks also present a special problem for drivers in Michigan. Vehicles equipped with four wheel drive or all wheel drive systems, such as many SUVs, are ostensibly built to handle rough and slippery terrain. Unfortunately, many drivers are unaware of their vehicles’ limitations. Although some SUVs may have better traction than two-wheel drive vehicles, not even the best four wheel drive system is completely safe. Furthermore, stopping distances for SUVs are no better than for other vehicles.

Used properly, SUVs are safe and enjoyable vehicles. Like any other vehicle, however, they carry unique risks. If you drive an SUV, remember to use caution – it could save your life or the lives of your loved ones.