It wasn’t that long ago that the news was filled with stories about the dangers of driving an SUV. Accidents involving SUVs had become such a problem that there were isolated movements in favour of banning the sale of any vehicle classified as a sport utility. Many concerns focused on the frequency of rollovers and the safety of other drivers on the road next to such large vehicles.
But in only a few short years the incidence of auto fatalities related to SUVs has plummeted, and annual safety reports are listing various SUV models as some of the safest vehicles on the road. So, what changed? How did these bulky trucks, true to their name as one of the most useful cars available, go from dangerous to desired in such a relatively short period?
Rethinking The Design Of The SUV
The short answer is that automakers had to change the way they thought about building sport utility vehicles. What had been conceptualized as a work truck, intended for on-the-job use, had turned into a popular option for the everyday driver and their families. Designers had to literally go back to the drawing board when it came to the fundamentals of SUV construction.
From Small Truck To Big Car
One of the biggest changes manufacturers made is hard to notice at first glance. Originally built on traditional truck frames, most SUVs now ride on a form of adapted car chassis, lowering the centre of gravity, improving handling and stability and even reducing the weight. This one, albeit fairly substantial, change has proven to nearly eliminate rollovers, the most dangerous problem once faced by SUV drivers.
SUVs: Smarter Than Ever
The other major contributor to the modern SUV’s enhanced stability is the advent of advanced, computer-based electrical systems intended to detect and react to potential rollover situations. Many manufacturers have implemented specific anti-rollover technology that can sense when the vehicle is listing too much to one side and adjust break pressure and engine speed to avoid an accident.
More Interior Space Means More Airbags
While multiple airbag systems have become a common feature on many vehicles, the sheer amount of open space inside an SUV makes extended airbag coverage all the more vital. Airbags aren’t just found in the steering wheel and dashboard anymore, full-length side curtain, seat mounted side impact and even drivers side knee airbags all help reduce the likelihood of injury in a collision, technology that simply wasn’t in place when SUVs first hit the road.
Structural Changes Have Made Everyone Safer
But what about the safety of other drivers? One of the major contributors to SUV related fatalities was collisions with other, often much smaller vehicles. Solving the problem of the inherent increased weight and size of SUVs fell to changing the geometry of the vehicle itself. Lowered ride height and adjustments to the frame and body design, as well as advances in crumple zone and energy distribution technology, have put SUVs in line with other cars when it comes to collision performance, making them safer for those inside and out.
Driving will always pose certain dangers, but thanks to the strides that automakers have made with SUV safety, the roads are a much safer place than ever before.