According to Newsweek, one in four automobiles sold in the United States is a sports utility vehicle. Every SUV purchase nets an average of $15,000, according to Forbes magazine, in profit for the vehicle’s maker. Because of this high demand and lucrative sales potential, the makers of SUVs have been accused of ignoring safety when it comes to the design and production of their products. The biggest safety complaint about the SUV is its high rollover record.
This lax attitude toward safety, however, is an item of the past. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released new rollover results for 2006 and 39 SUVs earned four-star ratings, which was the highest rating earned by the vehicles tested. No SUV earned the top ranking of five-stars. Under this ratings system, a vehicle rated at five-stars has a rollover risk of less than 10%. A four-star vehicle has a 10% to 20% risk, and a three-star vehicle has a 20% to 30% risk.
Newly tested SUVs that received four stars included: the Chevrolet HHR, Honda Pilot, Toyota RAV4, Subaru B9 Tribeca, Hyundai Tucson, Mercedes-Benz ML Class, Suzuki Grand Vitara and four-wheel drive versions of the Chevrolet TrailBlazer.
Among top-scoring SUVs, the HHR had a 14% chance of rollover and four-wheel drive versions of the Pilot had a 15% chance.
The four-wheel drive version of the Nissan XTerra had a 25% percent chance of rollover, the highest percentage among the new SUVs tested. The two-wheel drive version of the XTerra, the two-wheel drive Chevrolet Tahoe and Hummer H3 each had a 24% chance of rollover, and all received three stars.
The new statistics also reveal that SUVs have shown consistent improvements in the area of safety. Only two-dozen SUVs received four stars last year, and just one SUV earned the ranking in 2001. In addition, the agency noted that 7 in 10 new SUVs are equipped with electronic stability control. This feature is an anti-rollover system that automatically applies the brakes if the vehicle begins to skid, which helps to stabilize the vehicle. Government studies have found stability control reduces single-vehicle sport utility crashes by 67% compared with the same models sold in previous years without the feature.
Since 2004, NHTSA has asked auto manufacturers to voluntarily install electronic stability control because of its proven potential for saving lives. As a result, nearly all automakers now offer electronic stability control as standard equipment on a total of 57 SUV models, and on 6 SUVs as an available option. This is up from 20 standard and 14 optional in 2003. NHTSA is expected to issue a new proposal later this year specifying a performance criterion for stability control.