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Are SUVs safer than other vehicles?
Q: My wife wants to buy a sport utility vehicle because she thinks they’re safer than sedans, station wagons or minivans for driving around our two children and their friends. Are SUVs safer?
John St. Paul
A: John, as you know, SUVs have become popular as family cars because of their large size and the thought that they might be safer for children in the event of a crash.

In fact, a recent study was done assessing the outcomes of nearly four years of crashes in the United States involving over 70,000 children from birth to 15 years of age. Nearly 40 percent of the children were in SUVs and 60 percent in passenger cars. The study found that SUVs were not safer than passenger cars. The risk for injury to children was similar in SUVs and passenger cars. Heavier cars tended to be safer than lighter cars, within both classes of vehicles. However, the safety advantage of the SUV’s extra weight was counteracted by the more than two times greater risk of rollover in an SUV, and the three times greater risk of injury for children in rollovers.

The study found that children who were restrained appropriately in car seats, boosters and seatbelts were four times safer than unrestrained or inappropriately restrained children. Children restrained in the back seat were twice as safe as those in the front seat. The study also noted that children exposed to a passenger airbag were more than four times more likely to be injured. The greatest risk for injury was for children in SUVs who were unrestrained in a rollover crash.

In all, for your children’s safety, it doesn’t seem to matter whether you drive an SUV or a passenger car. However, it is important to restrain your children appropriately in the back seat, away from passenger air bags. And be sure to follow the speed limit and never drink and drive.

Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician