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SUV Safety Ratings

SUV safety ratings are important in determining the road-worthiness of sports utility vehicles.

SUV rollover ratings are a key factor in considering a vehicle. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
SUV rollover ratings are a key factor in considering a vehicle.

SUV Safety Ratings

Drivers of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) are especially interested in SUV safety ratings, the independent assessments of the relative safety of these larger-than-usual vehicles. Drivers who share the road with SUVs also have an interest in precisely how safe their roadway neighbors are.

Find ratings and information on the safest SUVs on the ratings section of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a non-profit, independent, scientific and educational organization dedicated to reducing the losses, deaths, injuries, and property damage from crashes on the nation's highways.

In addition to providing specific detail on how various SUVs (and other cars) perform in three safety tests, the Institute's Highway Loss Data Institute also awards top safety picks to those vehicles that perform best in the tests.

According to the Institute, the main goal is to identify and document how well various vehicles protect drivers and passengers in different crash scenarios. The Institute assigns grades on a four-point scale -- good, acceptable, marginal, or poor -- in frontal offset crash tests, side crash tests, and rear crash protection/head restraint tests.

The Impact of Crash Tests

The Institute says that these particular tests, and a few others, provide the best indication of how safe vehicles are in various crash scenarios.

  • The frontal offset crash test is conducted at 40 miles per hour into a full-width rigid barrier, and provides an assessment of the strength and integrity of a vehicles structural design. This is a critical assessment because about half of the 30,000 passenger vehicle deaths each year in the United States are due to frontal crashes, according to the Institute.
  • The side crash tests provide data on how well occupants of a vehicle are protected when the vehicle in which they are traveling is struck in the side.
  • The rear crash protection/head restraint ratings measure the effectiveness of the seats and head restraints in protecting against whiplash.
  • A new roof crush rating system has been added to the process to assist buyers of SUVs and other vehicles in choosing vehicles that provide the best protection in rollover crashes.
  • And finally, bumper ratings simulate the kind of damage that typically occurs in low-speed collisions by running vehicles into steel barriers designed to provide the same impact as a car bumper.

Top Performers in Tests

In 2009, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the SUVs that performed best in the tests included the following:

  • In the large SUV category, the best performers were the Audi Q7, the Buick Enclave, the Chevrolet Traverse, the GMC Acadia, the Mercedes R class, and the Saturn Outlook.
  • In the medium SUV category, the best performers were the Acura MDX and RDX; the Audi Q5; the BMW X3 and X5; the Ford Edge, Flex, and Taurus X; the Honda Pilot; the Hyundai Santa Fe and Veracruz; the Infiniti EX35; the Lincoln MKX; the Mercedes M class; the Nissan Murano; the Saturn VUE; the Subaru Tribeca; the Toyota FJ Cruiser and Highlander; and the Volvo XC90.
  • And in the Small SUV category, the best performers were the Ford Escape; the Honda CR-V and Element; the Mazda Tribute; the Mercury Mariner; the Mitsubishi Outlander; the Nissan Rogue; the Subaru Forester; the Toyota RAV4; and the Volkswagen Tiquan.
  • In addition to the Institutes ratings systems, consumers interested in comparing specific SUV ratings can use the New Car Assessment Program, which provides a searchable database of SUVs (and other passenger cars, as well) going all the way back to the 1990 model year. It is in this program that vehicles are assigned ratings using the well-known five-star rating system.

Safe SUV Driving Tips

While many people believe that SUVs will always fare better in vehicle crashes than smaller cars simply because of their size, it is important to remember that they are somewhat more prone to rollover risk than smaller cars because of their higher center of gravity.

In fact, a recent study by researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Michigan suggested that SUVs aren't any safer for their drivers than the average midsize or large car and not much safer than many of the most popular compact and subcompact car models.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says that one of every three passenger vehicle occupant deaths occur in rollovers, even though only one of every 40 vehicles involved in a crash in recent years has actually rolled over. To help SUV drivers avoid the risk of rollovers, they offer several tips, including keeping the vehicle in good working order and exercising caution when driving, wearing seat belts, driving at or below the posted speed limit, and being careful not to over-correct one's steering when responding to an unexpected situation, such as maneuvering around an animal that suddenly appears on the road.

In addition, AAA recommends that SUV drivers should slow down carefully and gradually if the vehicle suddenly leaves a paved road surface, then slowly and carefully work the vehicle back onto the road when conditions allow. This is in contrast to the tendency of many SUV drivers to try to quickly jerk the wheel to get back onto the road. Also, being aware that many rollovers occur on rural roads that have no barriers, one should exercise extra caution when driving on these types of roads, since roadside objects can trip a vehicle when it leaves the pavement.

A few additional tips include keeping tires properly inflated, being careful not to overload a vehicle with people or luggage, especially luggage placed on a roof rack, which further raises the vehicles center of gravity, and purchasing an SUV with electronic stability control, which helps to keep the vehicle from under- or over-steering.

SUV Purchase Tips

Automotive website Edmunds.com suggests that, in addition to safety considerations, SUV buyers also should consider the size of SUV that will most suit them; the price they are willing to pay, the engine size and resulting fuel economy, the luxury features they wish to have, the capacity for cargo and passengers, preferences for two-wheel-drive, four-wheel-drive, or all-wheel drive, and annual operating costs.

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