Once a highly dangerous automobile to other cars on the roads, the SUV is now significantly safer, according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal. Joseph B. White reports that “fatality rates for occupants of cars or minivans… that were hit by SUVs of similar weight dropped by nearly 64 percent to 16 deaths per million… vehicles during the two-year period 2008-2009.” 16 deaths per million is a notable decrease from 44 deaths in the 2000-2001 period. Now, occupants of automobiles are more likely to die in a collision with a pick-up truck than with an SUV.
One of the major reasons for the decrease in SUV fatality rates is that auto makers have started redesigning the vehicles, now making safety a main priority. White reports that, like pick-ups, SUVs “had rigid frame rails that rode higher off the ground than most cars. In a collision, the trucks’ stiff frames collided not with the stronger, lower parts of car frames, but slammed into thinner sheet metal in the doors.” This is the sort of problem auto makers have been dedicated to solving, and it seems that they have.
Not only are SUVs now safer for other drivers, they are safer for SUV drivers too. On June 9, USA Today’s Jayne O’Donnell reported that, thanks to newly developed electronic stability control (ESC), death rates for SUV drivers have dropped 66 percent. From 1999-2002, SUV death rates were at 82 per million vehicles; from 2005-2008, those numbers dropped to 28 per million vehicles. According to a 2006 press release by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, electronic stability control is “an extension of anti-lock brake technology… designed to help drivers retain control of their vehicles during high-speed maneuvers or on slipper roads.” Indeed the implementation of ESCs appear to have had a profound effect on highway safety.