Do SUVs really put other people at risk?

Andrey Kamenov

Andrey Kamenov, Ph.D. Probability and Statistics

A lot of news articles suggest that SUVs are inherently dangerous to both pedestrians and other drivers. This seems logical — these vehicles are usually heavier, so the energy of impact should be greater. In addition, SUVs are taller, which most likely puts pedestrians at greater risk in a possible crash.

Nevertheless, this 2005 report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety seems inconclusive about the possible dangers of utility vehicles. Well, maybe the more recent data will shed some light on this.

Another report worth mentioning is an investigation by the Detroit Free Press and USA Today; it seems to support the “SUVs are dangerous” point of view.  Especially terrifying is the quoted 81 percent increase in the number of pedestrian deaths in single-vehicle crashes involving SUVs since 2009.

There’s one thing you have to keep in mind, however: The number of fatalities involving passenger cars has significantly increased as well. This means that in terms of percentage, the growth is not as drastic — though it’s still there.

The other thing you have to keep in mind is that the percentage of utility vehicles on the road has increased as well. There’s now a higher chance that a drunk or speeding driver has a larger vehicle.

There’s not enough data available to calculate how many SUVs are on the road. However, we can examine how many fatalities occurred inside them. The chart below represents single-vehicle crashes in which any of the occupants suffered fatal injuries.

Here the percentage of fatalities involving utility vehicles is roughly the same: around 23 percent. So, in general, it seems that SUVs don’t put pedestrians in any significant danger (at least compared to the vehicle’s occupants).

Of course, it’s hard to argue with laboratory tests showing that a higher vehicle profile is dangerous. Still, there are a lot of other factors at play here: average driver experience, how much the vehicle is driven and how often the driver speeds all play a major role.

Finally, what about other drivers? Do SUVs pose an increased risk in a vehicle-to-vehicle crash? Let’s see the breakdown of all fatalities by the type of crash.

The fact that most of the fatalities in SUVs are associated with single-vehicle crashes (60 percent compared to 44 percent for passenger cars) tells us that larger vehicles are indeed safer. But the most important statistic? In car-to-SUV crashes with at least one fatality, the SUV occupants are four times less likely to suffer fatal injuries (a fatality rate of 14 percent, compared to 57 percent in passenger cars).

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About Andrey Kamenov

Andrey Kamenov

Andrey Kamenov, Ph.D. Probability and Statistics

Andrey Kamenov is a data scientist working for Advameg Inc. His background includes teaching statistics, stochastic processes and financial mathematics in Moscow State University and working for a hedge fund. His academic interests range from statistical data analysis to optimal stopping theory. Andrey also enjoys his hobbies of photography, reading and powerlifting.

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