The Instability of Sport Utility Vehicles
As the ambulance slowly pulls away from the accident, a police officer stops to ponder how different this crash was from all the others in which a Sport Utility Vehicle was involved. He realizes it is no different at all. SUVs are the leaders in rollover crashes in the United States which includes all vehicles of make and model. They have been around for an extremely long time but, so have their problems. However, there were no problems actually documented due to the incredible instability of the cars during the first time period in which SUVs were created. Although extremely popular and useful, Sport Utility Vehicles are extremely dangerous and highly susceptible to roll over in sharp turns and high speeds. Reasons for such crashes include things like high ranking executives ignoring engineers warnings about the potential hazard of the vehicles, and high speeds mixing with sharp turns. Also, over- and/or under- inflated tires on a top-heavy, high-centered vehicle. Sport Utility Vehicles are extremely popular. A few reasons are for their all-terrain capabilities, the feeling of safety people have while their driving them, and their seating capacity. However, it is also for these reasons they are unstable. The false feeling of safety leads people to be careless while driving them, and/or leads people to feel in charge of the road thereby creating a higher chance of an accident or rollover.
The history of the Sport Utility Vehicle and its unique problems with rolling over in high speed fast reaction situations starts almost at the beginning of the car. According to John D. Pietro, the Suburban was introduced way back in 1936, the Chevrolet (and GMC) Suburban was based on a commercial panel truck, but instead of having a huge, windowless cargo area there was a large passenger compartment (The History). The early makers of General Motor Company, (GMC), saw potential in building a vehicle which could carry more people and still be useful in big jobs such as construction. GMC was the first company to build an SUV. The title of the first SUV and/or high capacity vehicle maker, however, is still up for debate. Such a part in the debate is in 1934, the name was shortened to “Westchester Suburban” and Dodge was selling them to the army (The History). Such statements started the debate on who had the first SUV. Dodge claimed their wagons to be the Westchester Suburban whereas, GMC and Chevrolet claimed the title Suburban. In 1956:
Power was on the rise again as much as 205 horsepower was produced by Chevrolet’s small-block V8. GMC followed suit with its six-cylinder engine (now at 270 cubic inch) putting out 130 horsepower as well as its V8 (now at 317 cubic inch) pumping out 180 ponies. The big news this year was the introduction of four-wheel drive for the GMC, and it could be had with either the six- or the eight-cylinder engine. (The History)
The Suburban was the original reason for SUV rollovers that are now known. It was the first to have 4-wheel drive capability and there for, made it easier to roll than two-wheel drive trucks.
However dangerous, they are still popular mainly because of their versatility and look. Also, they are very helpful for mothers or fathers to use for taking their kids to something like soccer games and football games and being able to carry more than just their child or children and instead fitting something like 5-6 kids in their vehicles. According to SUVRollovers.com,:
SUV popularity created a large increase in sales in the 1990s, and because there was so much consumer demand for these cars, carmakers continued to manufacture SUVs. Because the vehicle has changed from simply being an off-road vehicle to a family car, manufacturers have also removed the roll bar that protects drivers and
passengers in a rollover situation. (SUVrollovernews.com)
This is the main reason for their continually growing popularity. Although SUVs are somewhat hard on gas mileage and are not the most economic cars on the road, people enjoy them because they can take bumps in the road and hold a higher number of people. Thereby, creating a useful tool for commuting, whether it be on a farm or to a metropolis.
But, there are many dangers in both driving and owning an SUV. One instance of a danger occurred when all Ford Bronco IIs were found to be dangerously unstable and Ford executives had ignored warnings from their own engineers (Lisante). The Bronco II posed a danger to the driver of the vehicle and to the other drivers on the road. The executives at Ford decided to not listen to their own engineers and proceeded with production. The Bronco II was not the only vehicle Ford had problems with. During testing of the Explorer a recent federal scorecard that gives a fully-loaded Explorer the worst rollover rating one star out of a possible five (Lisante). Again Ford executives proceeded with manufacturing a dangerous and unstable vehicle. They put safety aside in order to make money. These SUVs although still manufactured, are exceptionally unstable and dangerous to have on the road. Ford was one of the first companies to have trouble between engineers and designers and executives who were just in it to make a quick buck on the average typical soccer mom.
Ignorant people are not the only causes of crashes and rollovers involving Sport Utility Vehicles. According to writer James R. Healey of the USA Today newspaper, in a multiple-vehicle crash, you get hit by another car and might roll over. Thats not an unstable vehicle (Healey). Rollovers are not just caused by unstable vehicles. There is always the chance of outstanding circumstances in any collision. On the other hand, James Grimaldi and Cindy Skrzycki of the Sun Times report, Firestone, primarily concerned about stresses placed on under inflated tires, has set 30 psi (pounds per square inch) as optimal. Fords 26 psi reflects its concern about stability (Grimaldi and Skrzycki). Conflicting reports can easily confuse an owner into an unavoidable accident. Some facts are not all they are shown to be. Consumer Reports magazine in a test of SUVs found, (we) tested seven SUVs on the same day, May 16. During those tests the only vehicle to tip up was the 2001 Mitsubishi Montero Limited. A well known and respected testing facility found an SUV to be unsafe. Although the odds of one in seven are pretty good, thats still too many. Upon an investigation of the Ford Company internal documents indicate Ford wanted a wider 245-centimeter tire on the Explorer for styling and marketing reasons, since bigger tires are regarded as more macho. But at a May 1989 test at Fords Arizona Proving Grounds, an Explorer equipped with the wider tires lifted two wheels off the ground in a sharp turn (Lisante). Ford again ignored blatant results that were presented to them in black and white. They manufactured the Explorers anyway. There is never only one reason for accidents and rollovers involving SUVs.
The chances of a rollover are greatly increased while driving an SUV. Approximately, 2,000 people would still be alive, if their vehicle had been hit by a heavy car instead of an SUV (SUVs: Escalating Risk). Due to SUVs, the driver fatality rate in multiple vehicle collisions has greatly increased. If people know of these staggering statistics, the fatality/collision rating can go down. It is then possible for more people to have the knowledge not to trust in these rolling boxes of death. In addition to SUV accidents, light trucks crashing into cars accounts for the majority of fatalities in vehicle-to-vehicle collisions (SUVs: Escalating Risk). SUVs, although not the leading cause, do cause a number of accidental fatalities. There is another reason for the high death toll of crashes. According to the National Highway Safety Administration, the government agency studying the safety of Sport Utility Vehicles, describes two characteristics of SUVs and other light trucks that have the potential to increase fatalities: rollover propensity and crash compatibility (SUVs: Escalating Risk). There are two major concerns to the government involving the frequency of rollovers and general crashes of SUVs. The government has become worried enough to devote an entire agency to study SUVs and light trucks. Dr. R. David Pittle, the Senior vice President of Consumer Reports reported the other vehicles that are most popular, and had fatal rollover scores roughly similar to Explorers: Subaru Legacy and outback station wagon, Oldsmobile Achieva, Chevrolet Cavalier, Pontiac Grand Am, Dodge and Plymouth Neon, Chrysler LHS and Ford Crown Victoria, (Pittle). Not only SUVs have a high rollover rating. The Ford Explorer is not the only SUV with a high rollover score, the Subaru Outback and Legacy had the same ratings. James Grimaldi and Cindy Skrzycki of the Sun Times explain, sport-utility vehicles are more prone than cars to tip over because of their high center of gravity. The reason for rollovers is actually quite easy to understand. The rollover rating has the potential to be much higher than it already is. They also report, the Ford Explorer with fully inflated tires could roll over when making sudden turns The possibility of a rollover is always there even with a standard direction like inflating your tires. Proper driving techniques such as leaving space or planning a trip can lead to safe driving and lower rollover percents. They go on to say Explorer would fail the tests when equipped with tires inflated to the maximum 35 pounds per square inch (Grimaldi and Skrazycki). The maximum amount is not always the best thing. The Explorer had many problems with their design. Consumer Reports also explains taller vehicles such as SUVs have a higher center of gravity, which makes them more top-heavy and more susceptible to rolling over than lower vehicles such as sedans (Pittle). Again, there is a simple and singular explanation for the high rates and percentages of SUV rollovers. Thanks to people not knowing a simple equation, height plus width equals stabilization, SUVs greatly increase the risk of rollover. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Solomon) rollovers occur in 8% of all crashes and cause more than 50% of all ejections (Solomon). SUV rollovers dont always have the driver physically in the car at the time of the crash. They also account for a half of the entire driver ejection statistic. The CDC also found ejections are also more likely to occur in Sport Utility Vehicles (Solomon). Yet another government agency found SUVs to be a cause of high injury risk. Not only do SUVs tip easily, they also have a higher potential than most cars to eject the driver of the vehicle out in a crash type situation.
In tests, Sport Utility Vehicles lifted two wheels off the ground fairly often, this resulting in rollovers on the road and numerous amounts of money spent on settlements and cases. According to Consumer Reports the Trooper at 39.4 mph, lifted its two right wheels slightly at the same section of the track where the red Montero had tipped (Pittle). More than one SUV tipped at the same point of track. Consumer Reports did a lot of testing and more than enough research to back up their findings. They went on to say a short-course double-lane change emergency-avoidance maneuver the Montero Limited, in 8 out of 9 runs at or faster than 36.7 mph, tipped up on two wheels during a sharp right turn (Pittle) Consumer Reports, again, went above and beyond the regular tests in order to test safety. They were not at all biased in their reports on any vehicles, despite what some companies may have reported in their lawsuits against them. Tab Turner, attorney to Don Bailey; a woman permanently hurt due to a rollover accident, settled a total of 11 cases of rollovers for a total of $11.5 million in six weeks (Lisante). There are a large number of people suing for cases of rollovers against big companies. Most people win because of mistakes on the dealers fault. Also according to this document, as of 1995, Ford had settled at least 334 Bronco II rollover cases, paying out more than $113 million (Lisante). A lot of SUV owners are going for a lawsuit against the maker of their SUV. Some people care enough about themselves to try and go after the big fish. Such SUV tests can help save lives and money by focusing more on the rollover capability factor.
These rollovers and crashes dont come without their own statistics and opinions from driver to auto-maker and from auto-maker to drivers. Such a statistic of complaints to auto-makers is 80% of car and SUV owners strongly suggest that automakers should make safety changes to SUVs that would make the roads safer for car occupants (SUVs: Escalating Risk). The owners and drivers of SUVs want changes. But, in addition to them, the owners and drivers of just cars want changes to SUVs too. In 1996 rollover crashes accounted for 53% of all SUV occupant deaths in single vehicle crashes (SUVs: Escalating Risk). SUVs, even back then, were incredibly unstable. Since then, more teenagers have modified and built up their SUVs and made the center of gravity higher in turn making SUVs easier to roll over. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says SUVs rollover in 37% of fatal crashes, compared to 15% rollover rate for passenger cars (SUVs: Escalating Risk). SUVs, while holding more people than most passenger cars, also have a higher chance of killing everyone in the vehicle. Your chance of dying in a rollover is increased at least 22% when you decide to own or drive an SUV. They also say Sport Utility Vehicles are more than three times more likely to rollover in a crash than normal passenger cars (SUVs: Escalating Risk). You have a 300% chance of rolling over when you drive an SUV as opposed to a passenger car. Yet another statistic showing the instability of SUVs. The Ford company wasnt the only ones to have deaths with their SUVs, the Subaru Legacy and Outback, for instance, had a low single-vehicle driver death rate18but all involved rollovers, so the instability score was 100% (Healey). There wasnt just one company and or type of vehicle who had problems with instability and driver death rates. The Subaru car company, although very successful in selling their cars and wagons, also had a issues with their vehicles which they describe as well made. The IIHS says the most-popular version of Explorer (59.3% of Explorers in the IIHS analysis) had a driver death rate of 56 and an instability score of 70.3% (Healey). More than just the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator has found Explorers are a danger to have on the road. Explorers and other Sport Utility Vehicles are probably not worth the risk of having on the road. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also states we are investigating 62 deaths and more than 100 injuries linked to the separation of tread from tires on the Explorers (Grimaldi and Skrzycki). The Explorer was not the only thing responsible for the rollovers but had a large impact in it. There was no real way to know the tires had the chance of separation but still separated. After many tests made by completely different groups of people and different researching companies, the result was the same. SUVs were extremely unstable.
As time goes on, the safety of SUVs becomes more and more tolerable. In a recent study done by the American Automobile Association (Van Sickle), the new 2002 Ford Explorer received an average of 4.5 stars in crash tests (Van Sickle). The potential for rollovers has been greatly reduced in recent years. The harm to the drivers and passengers has also been decreased as the vehicles have progressed. AAA also issued the Nissan Pathfinder, Frontier 4×4, and RWD models three stars in their Rollover Resistance Ratings. These Nissan models have a 20 to 30% chance of rolling over in a crash or in sharp turns at high speeds. The rollover rating, in addition to crash tests, has gone down in frequency of accidents in recent years. This is partially due to higher standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, who controls which cars are allowed on the road and which are not.
Although these advances in the safety of these large bulky vehicles have been made, there is still a false sense of security because of the size of the vehicle. People are trusting too much in their trucks and not being cautious enough while driving one of these. Even with the recent breakthroughs in security, Sport Utility Vehicles are the leaders in rollover crashes in the United States including large passenger vehicles such as vans, and small economic cars such as a Geo Metro or a Toyota Corolla. Although extremely popular and useful, Sport Utility Vehicles are extremely dangerous and highly susceptible to rollover in sharp turns and high speeds. They can lead to large death tolls, rollover settlements and insurance costs. Reasons for such crashes include things like, high ranking executives ignoring engineers warnings about the potential hazard of the vehicles, and high speeds mixing with sharp turns. Also, over and or under inflated tires on a top heavy, high centered vehicle. All these combined with the everyday hazards of normal driving in traffic or high stress situations create a large potential for fatalistic and harm causing incidents.
Dipietrom, John. A Chevrolet/GMC/Suburban History. 6 Dec. 2001. 17 Oct. 2002
Grimaldi, James V., and Cindy Skrzycki. SUV instability led to Ford advising low tire pressure. ChicagoSuntimes.com. 21 Aug. 2000. 25 Sept., 2002
Healey, James R.. Crash study ranks deadly vehicles USA Today 23 Oct. 2000: 34
The History Of The Suburban, 2 June 2000. 17 Oct. 2002
Lisante, Joan E. Explorer Goes on Trial. ConsumerAffairs.com. 8 Jan. 2001. 25 Sept., 2002.
Pittle, R. David. Consumer Reports Responds to Mitsubishi Statements Regarding Its Tests of the 2001 Mitsubishi Montero Limited. Consumersunion.com.21 June 2001.25 Sept. 2002
Solomon, David. Nutz and Boltz Automotive Survival Guide. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1997
SUVrollovernews.com. 17 Oct., 2002
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Van Sickle, Dave. 2002 New Cars and Trucks. Heathrow, Florida: AAA Publishing, 2002.