February 7, 2005

SUV owners group responds to negative ad campaign

Washington, D.C. – A nationwide SUV safety education campaign launched earlier this week warrants some balance, says the SUV Owners of America (SUVOA).

While the pro-SUV group applauds the efforts to educate drivers about the different handling characteristics of SUVs as compared to other vehicle types, the group feels that media coverage included inaccurate stereotyping and the repetition of misinterpreted safety data.

While SUVs have a higher centre of gravity and therefore a greater propensity to rollover, data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) show that SUVs have the fewest occupant deaths of any other vehicle type. Further, larger vehicles in any vehicle class have lower fatality rates.

The best overall measure of a vehicle’s safety performance is the fatality rate for that vehicle type, says the SUVOA. Too often the focus is solely on one type of crash like rollovers as with the following factoid: “Single-vehicle rollover crashes accounted for 47 percent of occupant deaths in SUVs in 2003 compared with 36 percent of deaths in pickups and 19 percent of deaths in cars.”

This statement does not reveal the entire picture, says SUVOA. Yes, the percentage of “rollover” deaths in SUVs is higher than that of other vehicle types, but SUVs are nearly twice as protective of their occupants in all other types of crashes. Only about 3 percent of all crashes are rollovers. Since drivers cannot predict what kind of crash they may have they are better served by looking at the overall fatality rate of the vehicle type. And the fatality rate will vary with vehicle size.

Moreover, most rollover crashes need not be lethal events. Occupants of SUVs and all vehicles can improve their survival chances dramatically by taking the simple step of using safety belts. Here’s the mostly unreported story about vehicle rollovers: Almost three-quarters of people killed in fatal rollover crashes, in various vehicle models, do not wear their safety belts. Similarly, the government estimates that 66 percent of those non-belt users would be alive today had they simply buckled up. Every 1 percent increase in safety belt use would save 270 lives a year in the U.S.

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