SUV vs Car safety

Just curious as to which is really safer. Obviously it depends on the specific model - comparing a Hummer and a two seater convertible would be a no brainer. But in general, are SUV’s typically safer?

First describe safer. The usual measurement is survivability in an standard accident. In that situation, one major factor is weight and size. The SUV usually is larger and heavier, so all else being equal they will be better rated.

However the preferred solution is to avoid the accident to begin with and that is far harder the measure.

I would have to guess that overall for the average driver the SUV is slightly safer than most other cars. Personally I would not want one, but that is my choice.

Passengers in SUVs tend to sit higher than in a car. Penetration into the cabin from the sides or rear should be less than a car. This would be true of minivans, too.

Since all vehicles are quite safe these days, my approach would be which vehicle do YOU feel is the easiest to drive, change direction and generally avoid problems?

My wife hated my 1988 Caprice, because she felt she was not really in control of the car either driving or parking. On the other hand, she loves driving her Nissan, since it has good visibility, and is easy to handle.

Yet, some of our readers will swear that my Caprice, because of its mass is a safer vehicle. As Joseph points out, AVOIDING an accident is much more important than trying to survive one in a steel “bunker” of a car.

During the last snow storm, more SUVs were in the ditch than cars, and our police chief commented on the lack of judgement and skill these owners had in the way they drive!

So, if you want to feel safe and minimize the chance of an acccident or serious injury:

  1. Buy a car you feel good driving at any speed. An SUV has clumsy handling compared to a good car!

  2. Buy a vehicle you can easily see out of; a Hummer does not fit that category

  3. If you must have All Wheel Drive, buy one with good handling, like the Subaru Impreza or Legacy/Outback. There are many other car-based AWDs. Equip your vehicle with good winter tires.

  4. Take both a Defensive Driving course and a Winter Driving course.

Many of my friends and some relatives fly light planes. They know statistically the fatality rate of light planes is 26 times that for scheduled airlines, for an number of reasons. That does not deter them from flying safely and enjoying themselves.

Let’s not forget about fatalities from roll-overs. While that type of accident is relatively rare in sedans unless they are driven in a really extreme manner, roll-overs are actually failrly common with SUVs–at least judging from the number of upside-down SUVs that I see frequently see after a large snowstorm.

Back in 1982, I had the misfortune to cross the state of Ohio during an unpredicted blizzard. And, unfortunately, at that point the State of Ohio had apparently not discovered the existence of snowplows. While I just kept going in my little stick-shift Chevy Citation (with snow tires on the front), I literally lost count of the Jeep Cherokees and Wagoneers (I’m not sure which other 4WD vehicles existed at that point!) that were upside down on the center median of The Ohio Turnpike. And, if I recall correctly, there were no upside-down sedans that I saw on the long, slow slog across Ohio.

If someone has a roll-over they are much more likely to die than they might be in other types of accidents, IIRC, and SUVs are much more prone to roll-over than other types of vehicles. So, while you might be safer in an SUV in “simple” collisions, roll-overs are an entirely different thing. And, of course, the driver’s skill and his ability to resist engaging in asinine driving behavior are both paramount in avoiding accidents of all types.

That’s a tough question to answer. On average I would say the SUV is safer for the simple fact you have more metal around you but it could depend on the type of accident. The problem with many SUV, or even any 4WD/AWD vehicle owner, is that the commercials on TV have convinced too many of the owners they’re invulnerable during lousy weather, heavy traffic, etc.
Every ad you see shows vehicles plowing at excessive speed through snow banks, foot deep mud and water, high speed turns on mountain roads at night, etc.

(Slightly off topic, but in regards to the light airplane business it’s amazing how many people suffer a mechanical fault or run out of fuel, crash, and wind up as fatalities or with serious injury.
I’ve had the privilege of seeing Mr. Bob Hoover perform at air shows several times with his Shrike Commander and he’s absolutely amazing. Shuts off both engines, pulls loops, barrel rolls, and landings all with a dead stick; or wheel as the case may be. If Hoover can do stunts with a heavy plane like a Shrike Commander with no power then it seems to me that an average pilot should be able to bring a small Cessna or Beech down safely.)

Before I (sort of) retired, my supervisor was a private pilot. He once told me that the top two causes of private aviation accidents were
(1) a VFR-rated pilot continuing into IFR conditions, and
(2) running out of fuel.

A vehicle is only as safe as the person driving it(unless you happen to own a 70s Chrysler Imperial). People who drive 4x4 SUVs tend to get overconfident and drive like it’s 80 and sunny when it’s 30 and snowing(hence the reason more SUVs are in the ditch :P).

I do not buy into the bunker mentality for many of the same issues the previous posters had. The most dangerous accident is roll-overs- how many sedans roll-over? Not many. In a panic situation people will usually yank their steering wheel. In a sedan, this can create a skid, in an SUV, it creates a roll-over. In addition, if everyone took the bunker mentality than SUVs would lose their weight advantage there as well. Probably the best combo is the dreaded mini-van. Still low to the ground, heavy and manufacturers know that if you are buying a min-van, then safety for your family is a primary concern. I, for one, feel safer in sedans because I don’t have to worry about being on top of my head in a panic situation.


Some SUV’s if driven to beyond their limits can roll over easier then a sedan. Earlier Explorers had a problem with roll-overs…Then sometime around 2002 Ford widened the footprint by 4". The rollovers of the Explorers dropped drastically.

I agree 100% with OK…MOST SUV rollovers are due to people NOT knowing how to drive them. They listen to all the advertising bunk and think they can go anywhere at any speed under any condition…thus the higher then normal roll overs. I’ve been driving SUV’s for 20+ years and over 700k miles and NEVER had a roll over.

One FEATURE I like with SUV’s and MiniVans over cars is the fact you can see farther down the road because you’re a little higher up. This helps you AVOID accidents. I HATE driving my wifes Lexus in traffic on I 495 or rt 128 in MA…especially during rush hour. I have to react ONLY to the car in front of me. I can’t see around any vehicle in front of me. I feel MUCH safer in my 4runner.

Feelings and reality are much different things. Personally, I think that people “feeling” safe is a part of what contributes to driving dumb. I agree that sitting up higher can help you avoid accidents and that it is people’s driving that creates roll-overs, but statistics don’t lie- the reason behind them is another matter. For the record, I drive a CRV and a minivan. Both sit up high, but the minivan is much more stable and safer according to rollover rates and IIHS tests.


There is no clear cut answer. It really depends on make/model/year of a vehicle(SUV or car). Look at the insurance ratings scores and you will find their are poor performing in safety tests cars and SUV’s. There are also top in class ones.

but statistics don’t lie- the reason behind them is another matter.

Obviously you’ve never taken a college level statistics class.

By looking at the stats ONLY you are not taking into account any contributing factors. Like the guy driving the SUV in the Blizzard at 80mph. I can’t tell you how many of them I’ve seen.

I don’t think you can make a generalization that applies to all SUVs and all cars. There are SUVs that get low safety ratings by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ( and there are cars that get high ratings. You really need to narrow it down to one SUV and one car to do any real comparison. Go to and check crash test results and rollover ratings for individual vehicles to find your answer.

For example, my two door 1998 Civic gets four stars while a four door 2004 Chevy Blazer gets three stars. A 1996 Suzuki Sidekick gets two stars and a 2000 Ford Explorer gets four stars. A 2002 Toyota Sienna gets five stars and all of the 2006 Honda Civics get five stars. So based on this comparison, a small two door car is just as safe, or safer than an SUV. Does this hold true for all comparisons? No. This goes to show that there is no set rule simply based on vehicle types.

Well, you perception would be incorrect. And if you noted my post, I indicated that I was aware that statistics do not account for those things. Obviously you have never taken an English class?