Four-Wheel Death Trap

The scary truth Their high centre of gravity and narrow wheel base make SUVs vulnerable to rollovers, the largest single.


The scary truth

  • Their high centre of gravity and narrow wheel base make SUVs vulnerable to rollovers, the largest single cause (32 per cent) of driver fatalities.
  • More than 60 per cent of SUV rollovers end in death.
  • Stats show that SUV drivers are three times more likely to be killed in a single-vehicle rollover than drivers of passenger cars.
  • Slightly more than half of all SUVs tested by the U.S.’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showed elevated risk (30 to 40 per cent chance) of rollover.
  • Tire blowouts on Ford Explorer SUVs have sparked dozens of wrongful death lawsuits in the U.S.
  • Need more proof? A 21 to 35 percent chance of serious injury was found by the NHTSA in 17 of 51 SUVs tested for head-on crashes at 50 km/h.

SUVs that scored the worst in NHTSA rollover testing

  • Ford Explorer Sport Trac 4×2
  • GMC Envoy 4×2
  • Chevrolet Trailblazer 4×2 (with side airbag)
  • Jeep Liberty 4×2
  • Jeep Liberty 4×4
  • Oldsmobile Bravada 4×2
  • Buick Rainier 4×2 (with side airbag)
  • Toyota 4Runner 4×2
  • Toyota 4Runner 4×4

Why so risky?

  • SUVs were originally designed to be work vehicles, and most are still built using truck chassis that haven’t been redesigned to be used safely as passenger vehicles.
  • Roofs not strong enough to withstand weight of the SUV on rollover.
  • Safety belt design flaws: some 60 per cent of all SUV rollover deaths involve drivers being ejected from the vehicle.
  • Too heavy, on average 538 kilograms heavier than cars. Besides affecting manoeuvrability, their weight makes SUVs harder to stop, requiring on average some 10 metres more to come to a full stop than cars at 100 kilometres an hour.

Why the risk of driving SUVs may be higher than we think

  • Rigorous government testing on rollovers is only now being developed.
  • A very small percentage, 18 of the 104 makes and models of 2004 SUVs, were tested for rollover risk.

The “sport ute” hoax

  • Rugged and sporty? Think again. Only a handful of SUVs have the advanced four-wheel drive technology and body design (chassis clearance) for heavy off-roading.
  • In one study, fewer than 5 per cent of SUV owners reported taking their vehicles off-road.
  • Remove the roof racks and most SUVs have as much cargo space as the trunk of a full-sized car, sometimes less. Even a tiny four-door Toyota Prius, for example, boasts more luggage capacity (16.1 cubic feet) than a Ford Explorer (13.7 cubic feet) with a full passenger load. Go figure.

All gassed up and no place to park

  • Compact and midsized SUVs can generally squeeze into a standard street parking space. However, many full-length SUVs, like the big-ass Ford Excursion (which is 20 feet long and 6 1/2 feet wide) are too bulky for regular spaces.

The hard sell of an eco menace

We all know these gas-guzzlers are eco terrors, but fuel efficiency ratings have gotten so bad that a Model T built in 1912 outperforms (15 kilometres per litre) all but a handful of SUVs.

Barrels of oil that would be saved each year if SUVs were as fuel-efficient as cars : 151 million

How automakers are able to get around improving fuel efficiency: By exploiting the fact that SUVs are defined as light trucks and are therefore not required to have the fuel efficiency of passenger vehicles

What the feds have called on automakers to do as part of Canada’s Kyoto climate change plan : Boost average fuel efficiency by 25 per cent by 2010

Why automakers are not availing themselves of better fuel efficiency technology: It’s more lucrative to invest in bells and whistles and advances in engine technology to make SUVs bigger and faster – making them more dangerous still. It’s a vicious circle.

What the experts say

“They’re safe if they’re driven properly. That’s something people don’t understand. People need to look at the literature and safety videotapes that go with the vehicles when they purchase them.”

Mark Nantais, president, Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association

“Instead of marketing fuel efficiency, automakers are manufacturing demand by pushing the big car that takes on the wilderness. They haven’t adapted to the fact that Kyoto is a marketing possibility. People are being sold a lifestyle option.”

Shawn-Patrick Stensil, director, atmosphere and energy, Sierra Club of Canada Four-wheel death trap

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