Are Bigger Cars Really Safer?

When it comes to automotive safety, many people rely on age-old maxim, “Bigger is better.” Most motorists assume that wrapping themselves in a large cocoon of steel is the best way of increasing their chances of surviving a crash. This odd, yet understandable theory is often a driving factor for those buying SUVs, CUVs and pickup trucks. However, just because a car happens to be big doesn’t mean that it’s safer than other vehicles on the road. The average auto accident attorney deals with the aftermath of accidents involving a variety of vehicles, including large SUVs and pickup trucks. The consensus among not only these professionals but also among institutions like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is that while size can be helpful in some circumstances, the size of the vehicle is not necessarily the determining factor in whether a crash results in injuries.

Safety Factors

There are plenty of misconceptions surrounding larger vehicles in terms of safety, but there are a few kernels of truth. For one, having a larger vehicle may put you at an advantage in an accident with a smaller car. However, it’s not sheer size that dictates your chances of surviving an accident with any vehicle. For one, the mass of your vehicle plays a much larger role than its size. If two large vehicles collide, the one that will take less damage will be the one whose mass is greater—the heavier vehicle. The lighter vehicle (for example, vehicles made more recently with the inclusion of fiberglass and other lightweight materials) will not have the same advantage.

Your vehicle’s performance largely depends on its ability to absorb and dissipate the energy of a crash. Nearly all modern vehicles sold today feature well-designed crumple zones that deform and give way on impact, reducing the amount of energy that goes through a vehicle during a crash. In the event of a collision with another vehicle, having a well-designed crumple zone is a bigger advantage than having the largest vehicle.

Rollovers are another problem area that has traditionally plagued large vehicles, especially those with higher ground clearances. Many people feel safer in these vehicles thanks to the greater riding height and the ability to see over other cars; but the higher ground clearance combined with a higher center of mass and taller profile add up to make SUVs and pickup trucks more prone to rolling over during emergency lane changes and other sharp, unexpected handling maneuvers.

In 2009, SUV rollovers accounted for 2,200 vehicle-related deaths. Fortunately, many car manufacturers have begun to include stability control on most new vehicles as standard equipment. Another important innovation has been the development of airbags for rollover protection and the introduction. A third safety feature that is helpful to many has been the new generation of collision avoidance technology which has reduced serious injuries caused by rollovers.

Larger vehicles are often heavier than regular cars, translating to longer stopping distances and handling that is less responsive to quick input than most ordinary cars. Even when they are made of lighter materials, these larger vehicles are going to be heavier than, for example a sports car. The false security that all-wheel drive offers may also prompt drivers to take unnecessary risks they normally wouldn’t, such as driving at high speeds on icy or snow-packed roads, as well as on roads that are flooded.

Avoidance is the Best Policy

Being behind the wheel of a large SUV or truck during an accident pales in comparison to avoiding accidents in the first place. After all, any car is only as safe as the driver in control of it. It’s up to you as a driver to decrease your chances of being involved in a serious accident and to follow all traffic safety laws. If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable with driving conditions, it is a good idea to find a place to safely stop and park the car until the situation improves; for example, if there is torrential rain that affects visibility, pull over if possible or park at a gas station and wait for the rain to pass. Exercising safe driving habits will do much more to keep you from injury than owning a large vehicle.

If you’re involved in an accident involving any vehicle, turning to an auto accident attorney should be one of the first courses of action to take. We invite you to see how our expertise can help you get the help you need when you need it most.

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