- The Washington Times - Friday, February 21, 2003

The sport utility vehicles that provided rescues from deep snow earlier this week again have become demons of the roadway as they roll over in ice and snow.

All 15 of the vehicle rollovers on the Capital Beltway reported to Maryland State Police since traffic reopened Tuesday have been sport utility vehicles, police said yesterday.

Emergency personnel used SUVs to help residents stranded by deep snow while roadways were impassible. As the snow was cleared, SUVs became part of the problem instead of the solution.

"The cause of these rollovers was speed too fast for conditions," said Lt. Bill Tower, commander of the Rockville Barracks of the Maryland State Police. "Because of a high center of gravity, these vehicles took turns too sharply, they hit a snow bank and flipped over."

Twelve of the 15 rollovers in the Maryland suburbs occurred Tuesday, Lt. Tower said. All of them either were on Interstate 270 or Interstate 495.

Virginia State Police did not have exact numbers of SUV rollovers in the Washington area but did notice an increase after the snowstorm.

"It looks like there were five or six SUVs that overturned," said Virginia State Police Sgt. Lynn Cofer. "Most of them were on the Beltway."

A motorist was killed in another SUV rollover on the Dulles Access Road, she said. Some motorists were injured in the other SUV rollovers reported throughout the region this week but none died.

"People think they can drive in those things more safely, but they really can't," Sgt. Cofer said.

Similar figures were not available for the District.

SUV owners described the vehicles as a mixed blessing while snow piled up on the Washington region's roads and driveways.

"It's become very practical in the last few days," said Paul Greene, a Manassas computer consultant who frequently drives on the Capital Beltway.

The four-wheel drive in his 1996 Explorer allowed him to drive through snow drifts where cars were getting stuck.

"I could go almost anywhere I wanted," Mr. Greene said.

However, he is aware of the risk from excessive speed and a high center of gravity. With too much speed around curves on slick streets, "You're going to have trouble, I think," Mr. Greene said. "My experience with SUVs is they are definitely more wobbly than a car."

SUV rollovers this week underscore results of a study announced recently by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley.

SUVs are more dangerous than previously believed, according to the study. Although they withstand collisions better than passenger cars, they roll over more often.

As a result, the risk of being killed in an SUV is the same as in cars, the Berkeley scientists said. At the same time, passengers in the cars hit by the larger SUVs are more likely to be injured or killed than in collisions with other cars.

With their growing popularity in the past decade, one-fourth of all new vehicles sales are now SUVs.


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