February 27, 2003

SUV owners group fights criticism of SUVs

Washington, D.C. – Responding to rising attacks against sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) and their owners, Sport Utility Vehicle Owners of America (SUVOA) has announced steps that will increase its visibility and expand its grassroots support. Founded in 1999, the group actively defends the rights of SUV owners and rebuts false charges regarding SUVs’ safety and environmental record.

“Day after day, anti-SUV activists and others are stepping up their assault on SUV owners, outrageously suggesting that we are fellow travellers of terrorism, heartless highway marauders and selfish environmental criminals,” said Bill Brouse, founder of SUVOA. “But the facts paint a completely different picture: SUVs are among the safest vehicles on the road, have vastly improved their environmental performance and fuel efficiency, and are a mainstay of America’s quality of life at work, home and play.”

The SUVOA says that allegations that SUVs are more rollover prone doesn’t take into account their overall safety record:

  • SUVs are more protective of their occupants than many other classes of
    vehicles, including most passenger cars.

  • While SUV critics focus on one crash mode — rollovers, which account
    for only 2.5% of crashes — they fail to mention that SUVs are 2 to 3
    times more protective of their occupants in front, rear, and side
    collisions,(1) which account for 97.5% of crashes.

  • Drivers cannot choose the type of crash in which they may be involved
    and they should not choose their vehicle based on its performance in
    one rare kind of collision. Instead, a vehicle’s overall safety
    performance should guide consumers’ decisions.

  • Data covering 1991-98 from the National Highway Traffic Safety
    Administration (NHTSA) shows SUVs had lower overall fatality rates than
    small cars, medium cars and small pickups. And in frontal, side and
    rear crashes, SUVs had the second lowest fatality rate of all classes
    of vehicle — better than all cars, minivans and pickups (so-called
    “standard vans” rated just slightly better).(2)

  • Regarding injuries, the Highway Loss Data Institute reports that “very
    large SUVs” have the lowest injury rates of the 31 categories of
    vehicles they surveyed in 2001. Two other SUV categories — “Large 4WD
    SUVs” and “Large 2WD SUVs” — also ranked in the top 10 of 31 rated

  • While it is accurate that the higher center of gravity of some SUVs
    make them somewhat more likely to roll over, any type of vehicle can
    roll over. In fact, rollovers kill more than twice as many passenger
    car occupants as SUV occupants.(4) In total numbers, more small cars
    roll over than any other class of vehicle.

  • Failure to wear safety belts is by far the main reason why rollovers
    result in fatalities and injuries. Safety belts are particularly
    important during rollover crashes because they help prevent ejection or
    partial ejection. Consequently, according to NHTSA, the simple act of
    buckling up is estimated to reduce the risk of fatal injury by 75%.
    Based on 2000 figures compiled by NHTSA, safety belts could have saved
    7,412 of the 9,882 lives lost in rollover crashes of all vehicles.

  • Since 1990, annual SUV sales have surged more than three-fold
    (over 200%).(5) Despite all these SUVs joining the vehicle fleet over
    the past decade-plus, rollover fatalities in the recent years
    (1997-2000) have remained relatively flat, increasing 3.6 percent.

The SUVOA also disputes the allegation that SUV’s pose an inordinate risk to drivers of automobiles:

  • Differences in vehicle sizes and weights have existed ever since Henry
    Ford first adapted a Model T car into a delivery truck. Indeed, in the
    late 1970s and early 1980s, there was a greater disparity in weight
    than there is currently, as then-new compacts were sharing the road
    with the existing fleet of cars that on average were twice as heavy.

  • Data shows that SUVs have not been contributing to a large number of
    small car fatalities. According to the latest available report, only
    4% of occupant deaths in small cars occurred in crashes with SUVs
    (1999 analysis of 1990-96 model years). Similar figures hold true for
    crashes with virtually every class of passenger car. By contrast, 38%
    of light car occupant deaths occurred in single-vehicle crashes and
    23% occurred in crashes with other cars, totaling 61% of small car
    crashes — 15 times more than fatal small car crashes with SUVs.(6)

  • The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety had this to say about
    SUV-small car compatibility: “The fact that single-vehicle crashes
    dominate passenger car occupant fatality statistics means
    incompatibility isn’t a major contributor to the deaths … The high
    risk for occupants in light (and small) cars has more to do with the
    vulnerability of their own vehicles than the aggressivity of other

  • A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found
    that removing the lightest cars on the road would have a much greater
    safety benefit than withdrawing the heaviest vehicles. The report
    found that adding 100 pounds to small cars would have a seven-times
    greater safety benefit than removing 100 pounds in light trucks.”(8)

  • How do critics reconcile the fact that highway fatality rates continued
    to decline in the 1990s — and currently are at the lowest point in
    history — while sales of SUVs skyrocketed over the same period?
    Answer: they cannot.

(1) NHTSA information in January 12, 2001 Federal Register Notice

(2) Ibid

(3) “Injury, Collision & Theft Losses, by Made and Model, 1998-2000 Models,” Highway Loss Data Institute, September 2001.

(4) NHTSA Fatality Analysis Reporting System Data for Calendar Years 1997-2000.

(5) Wards Automotive Reports, 1975-2001.

(6) “Putting the Crash Compatibility Issue Into Perspective,” IIHS Status Report, Vol. 34, No. 9, October 30, 1999.

(7) Ibid

(8) “Relationship of Vehicle Weight to Fatality and Injury Risk in Model Year 1985-1993 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks,” NHTSA Study DOT HS 808 569, April 1997.

(9) EPA standards for light trucks and automobiles, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, February 2003.

(10) Ibid

(11) “Clearing the Air,” An Updated Report on Emission Trends in Selected U.S. Cities, AAA, September 1999.

(12) Projection based on 2000 light truck registrations (28% of 2000 light trucks were SUVs), Ward’s Motor Facts & Figures 2002.

Source: Sport Utility Vehicle Owners of America

CONTACT: Bill Brouse, Founder, or Ron DeFore, Communications Director,
of Sport Utility Vehicle Owners of America, +1-202-289-4370, or
cell: +1-202-425-6662

Web site: www.suvoa.com

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