Suvs May not be as Safe as you Think

By: Anthony Fontanelle

Sport utility vehicles are much safer. That is a common notion among auto aficionados. But they may not be as safe as people think.

According to a new crash tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) there are wide variations in the way mid-size SUVs protect motorists in serious side crashes. The results show that sport utilities may not be a whole lot safer than a mid-sized car if you are hit from the side in an auto accident.

"With these mid-sized SUVs we would expect them to do a little better in the side impact test than cars because they're higher off the ground," said Adrian Lund of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The IIHS crunched the numbers on the Toyota 4runner, Chevy Trailblazer, Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, as well as the Nissan Pathfinder and Xterra. The manufacturer of may find it twice as disappointing.

"The performance of some of these models in the side test was surprising," said David Zuby, the institute's senior vice president. "SUVS should have an advantage in side crashes because the driver and passengers ride higher up than in cars."

"People often think they're safer in one of these vehicles, but many cars hold up better than some of these midsize SUVs in this test," he added.

In front crashes, the Chevy Trailblazer received an acceptable rating - a step below the other five SUVs which did a good job protecting drivers. But several of SUVs were panned after a test that simulates being struck in the side by a similar sized vehicle traveling 31 mph, reported WWAY NewsChannel 3.

In a similar side testing, the Toyota 4Runner and Pathfinder and Xterra models equipped with side air bags received top marks of good in the side testing. The Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer received the second-highest rating of acceptable, the Associated Press reported.

"You can see there is just too much intrusion, even in this larger vehicle. We need better protection in side impact," Lund said.

Only three sport utilities offered good protection. They are the Toyota 4Runner, and the Nissan Pathfinder and Xterra. But both Nissan SUVs performed poorly without their optional side airbags. In some cases, side airbags are not a big deal. The Explorer rated acceptable and the Grand Cherokee and Trailblazer just marginal, they had airbags to protect the head, but not the torso.

All automakers have said they are going to make side airbags standard equipment by 2009. Additionally, they are going to be required by the federal government by 2011.

The TrailBlazer and Grand Cherokee lack air bags that protect the chests and abdomens of front-seat occupants. The combination of weak side structures and the lack of chest protection led to high forces on the driver dummies' chests and abdomens, Zuby said.

Company officials noted that the TrailBlazer, Grand Cherokee and the Nissan SUVs received top scores in the government's side crash tests.

General Motors Corp. spokesman Alan Adler said that the TrailBlazer "meets or exceeds all federal motor vehicle safety standards and was the first midsize SUV to offer rollover-capable head curtain air bags."

Chrysler LLC spokesman Max Gates said the Grand Cherokee has performed well in internal and external testing and "no single test can determine a vehicle's overall safety performance."

"While air bag systems, including side-curtain air bags which are either standard or optional on many of our vehicles, have been shown to mitigate the risk of injury, Nissan believes that seat belts and vehicle structure help provide the primary protection in crashes," Nissan Motor Co. said in a statement.

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