SUVs: Feeling Safe vs. Being Safe

A friend of ours has been looking to buy a compact SUV. His reasons: safety and the need to drive high-clearance roads for hiking. Let’s look at the latter first. Tarn and I take our Honda Accord on our hiking adventures and have yet to encounter a Washington back road we couldn’t clear. Our friend did quote us two roads we haven’t been on that might do us in. Fine, I’m okay with avoiding those roads.

As for safety, it is interesting how people feel psychologically safer in a bigger vehicles than in small ones. This New Yorker article talks about the myth of SUV safety. The stats in section 2 are missing some data like total number of cars sold and implies an even distribution of all vehicles and drivers across the US. This is certainly not the case. Anyway, the article is still very interesting, especially if you are considering the purchase of an SUV.

3 Responses to “SUVs: Feeling Safe vs. Being Safe”

  1. #1 by huskysooner

    That’s pretty old data (1995-1999) and kinda statistically noisy when looked at on a model-by-model basis, but the results seem reasonable. I’m not sure about your “total number of cars sold” concern: The analysis is done per capita and in the original report ( has 95% confidence intervals. You may have a point on the distribution across the US. Maybe the statistics should be normalized by the driving test score we discussed in another thread ;).

    In any case, the ensemble statistics in Figure 2 (page 3) are the most telling, i.e. that there is no statistical difference in risk-to-driver between midsize cars, large cars, and SUVs. There is a difference to others involved in the accidents, but the perception of safety is motivated by self-interest, not what might happen to whomever you crash into!

    I can’t believe so many people here are so willing to drive big SUVs. They handle and brake like crap. They’re hard to handle in narrow places. They’re expensive and get horrible, horrible mileage. Yuck.

    I’m of necessity in the minivan camp. It doesn’t handle like a sports car, but it’s sure nicer to drive than an SUV.

    Would something like the AWD Impreza or Outback have enough clearance for your friend?

  2. Some advice a friend gave me….” you are only as high off the ground as your axle”

  3. Thanks HuskySooner for the link to that article. My point about vehicle distribution is that someone who drives in rural areas surely encounters different hazzards, exhibits different behavior, and is surrounded by less people than the counterpart in the city. I’d be interested in data for large cities only.

    My “total number of cars sold” concern may not be one afterall. I was initially thinking that if there are far fewer sold of one vehicle, the owners might not show enough or show too much diversity against the cars with enormous sales. This might all come out in the wash, since any given person is attracted to the same vehicles at a moment in time, assuming that liked vehicles are actually available for purchase.

    As for my friend, alas it is too late. He purchased a Toyota RAV4.

Leave a Reply

To prove you're a person (not a spam script), type the security word shown in the picture. Click on the picture to hear an audio file of the word.
Anti-spam image