A recent study sponsored by Partners for Child Passenger Safety, a research project of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance Company, found that children are not any safer when riding in sport utility vehicles than in passenger cars.
This surprising finding is attributed mainly to the 200% higher risk of rollovers in SUVs that is seen as negating some of their perceived safety advantages such as greater size and weight.
It has been this perception that has led to the steady and significant increase in SUV sales between 1995 and 2002. In that period, the number of SUV registrations has increased by about 250 %.
According to Dr. Dennis Durbin, a pediatric emergency physician and study participant:
“We’re not saying they’re worse of that they’re terrible vehicles. We’re challenging the conventional wisdom that everyone assumed they were better.”
The study involved records of accidents that occurred between 2000 and 2003 involving some 4,000 children under the age of 16. Child injury rates were found to be about 1.7% in both cars and SUVs.
Researchers found that the SUVs weighed an average of 1,300 pounds more than the passenger cars in the study and that factor did provide a measure of enhanced safety. That reduced risk of injury was negated, however, by the finding that SUVs were more than twice as likely as passenger cars to roll over in an accident.
In addition, children involved in rollovers were three times more likely to experience a serious injury than those involved in non-rollover accidents.
In defense of the SUV, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, points to recent government research that found newer SUV models (post 2000) are less top-heavy and the fact that many manufacturers have made significant modifications to reduce the risk of rollovers.
As a result of these improvements, the Alliance claims SUVs are comparable to or even safer than conventional automobiles in “the vast majority of crashes.”
According to researcher Durbin, new Congressional legislation will likely improve SUV safety by requiring the National Highways Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) to implement manufacturing standards for manufacturers that specifically deal with the issue of rollovers.
The NHTSA sees the study as an incentive for those in the market for an SUV to pay closer attention to safety ratings rather than simply assume that buying an SUV is a guaranty of added safety for their families.