If you’re deciding between an SUV and a sedan for your next vehicle purchase, we'll guess that a good safety rating is on your list of must-have features. With the popularity of SUVs and crossovers exploding in recent years, there are many rumors circulating about the safety of this segment. You may have heard that an SUV is safer than a car due to its ride height or that it is more dangerous because of the increased chance of rollover. How much of this is true and how do you decide if an SUV will be the safer choice for you and your family?
We give you the straight answers about the advantages and disadvantages of SUVs and share which vehicles landed on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) "nice list".
SUV Safety Advantages
Size and Weight
One of the major safety advantages of driving an SUV compared to a car is its sheer size. According to the IIHS, the driver and passengers of a bigger and heavier vehicle will be better protected in a collision. This is because the force that occupants experience in a heavy vehicle is reduced during an accident, along with the risk of serious injury. When a large and heavy vehicle collides with a car, the force will push the smaller car backward resulting in more force on those occupants.
Of course, SUVs and crossovers come in many sizes from subcompact (which can be as light or lighter than a car) all the way to full size which will offer the benefit of a larger, heavier vehicle.
The higher ride height of SUVs is often touted as being safer. This is because it improves your visibility by allowing you to see over the car in front of you. There is definitely some truth to this. By seeing over the vehicle in front of you, you'll be able to anticipate if you need to slow down or brake sooner. Unfortunately, a taller vehicle won't help you avoid blind spots and since SUVs have become so common, you may not get to enjoy the benefit of seeing over cars much longer.
Although you will be able to find sedans with AWD, it's much easier to get a crossover or SUV with this feature. For driving in bad weather or going off-road, AWD will provide some extra traction. AWD also improves acceleration in slippery conditions compared to two-wheel-drive.
SUV Safety Disadvantages
Sometimes SUVs get a bad rap because they are more susceptible to rollovers. It's true that a higher center of gravity is the SUV's worst enemy when it comes to safety, but the good news is the rate of fatalities from rollovers is on the decline.
A rollover happens when the driver loses control and the vehicle slides sideways and hits something that causes it to roll on its side or go upside down. A rollover is also possible if a driver takes a turn too fast or has too tight of a turning radius. While it is possible for a vehicle to roll over when it collides with another car, according to IIHS, a staggering 3/4 of all rollover deaths happen in single-vehicle crashes.
Due to the higher center of gravity which is further increased by additional passengers, SUVs are much more likely to be involved in a rollover than cars. In 2016, 47% of SUV occupants killed in crashes were involved in rollovers compared to 22% in car crash deaths.
If you're shopping for a new SUV, you can breathe a little easier. New models are much less likely to be involved in a rollover and better safety features reduce the risk of injury in the event that one occurs.
IIHS Safety Picks
The IIHS rates vehicles for safety and compiles a list of the safest cars you can buy each year. While most vehicles on the list for 2018 are sedans, there are a handful of SUVs that made the cut for the Top Safety Pick+ category. In order to earn a spot on this list, the vehicle must be an industry leader in front, side, rear, and rollover crash protection.
Crossover SUVs that made the cut include the 2018 Kia Soul, the 2018 Subaru Outback, the 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe, the 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport and the 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLC.
According to IIHS, these are the 15 safest vehicles you can buy for 2018:
- 2018 Kia Forte
- 2018 Kia Soul
- 2018 Subaru Impreza
- 2018 Subaru WRX
- 2018 Subaru Legacy
- 2018 Subaru Outback
- 2018 Toyota Camry
- 2018 Genesis G80
- 2018 Genesis G90
- 2018 Lincoln Continental
- 2018 Mercedes-Benz E Class Sedan
- 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe
- 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
- 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLC
Whether a car or SUV will make a safer vehicle for your family will depend on the specific make and model and your use case. For example, if you live in an area that gets a lot of snow and rain or if you do a lot of off-roading, an SUV with AWD can be a better choice. More importantly, never overestimate the extra security that an SUV's ride height or AWD provide and exercise as much caution on the road as you would without having these features.