- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 12, 2001

About a year ago, shock waves rolled forth from the Dearborn, Mich., corporate headquarters of Ford Motor Co. following the release of a "corporate citizenship" report titled "Connecting With Society." In the report, Ford abased itself for selling sport-utility vehicles those supposedly irresponsible, petrol-slurping profligates.

Topics such as whether "SUVs pose a safety hazard to other cars and to their owners" and whether they "use too much fuel and pollute the air" were among the major thumb-suckers addressed in the report, topics that continue to define the debate over SUVs to this day. Most people have a stilted view of SUVs because media types hate SUVs and their personal bias suffuses their reportage. So it's worth pointing out a few facts about SUVs to give a more accurate picture especially in view of the ongoing pressure to effectively legislate them out of existence via ever-tougher federal fuel efficiency mandates, such as those barely defeated in the recently passed energy bill.

• Though the number of SUVs has increased by 130 percent during the past decade, fatalities due to SUV-car collisions have remained constant. Today, they represent about 3 percent of total fatalities annually. If you took the media reports at face value, you'd believe SUV fatalities were alarmingly high rather than a small fraction of the overall total.

• Occupant fatality rates for SUVs are 10 percent lower than for cars, and people driving SUVs are generally better protected (due in part to the larger size/mass) than are occupants of passenger cars. Media reports try to turn this fact on its head, arguing that SUVs are unsafe because when they are involved in accidents with puny econo-cars, the econo-car loses. The way to fix this problem, of course, is to make smaller cars bigger not to downsize SUVs.

• Studies have found that eliminating the heaviest, largest SUVs (models such as the Ford Excursion and Chevy Suburban) would reduce fatalities by less than one-half of 1 percent. However, eliminating the smallest, lightest passenger cars would reduce fatalities by more than 2.5 percent.

• Over the last 20 years, the number of trucks and SUVs has more than tripled and total vehicle miles traveled (VMT) increased by 80 percent. And yet, according to data compiled by the federal government and the Highway Loss Data Institute, the risk of being killed in a car accident has declined by 40 percent.

• It's true there is a higher rollover risk in SUVs, but only if driven inappropriately. Being higher off the ground and having suspension systems and tires designed for off-road use and superior traction in the snow and mud, they cannot tolerate violent weight shifts, such as are experienced during hard cornering, as well as can the typical sedan or coupe. But most sedans and coupes don't handle that well in the snow, yet no one suggests those cars are somehow unsafe or dangerous because of this fact.

Automakers should not be apologizing for manufacturing SUVs, and those who own them should not be targeted by government busybodies who think they know best. Because they don't.

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