American’s love their SUVs. Even the specter of rising gas prices has barely made a dent in SUV sales. There are currently about 28 million SUVs on America’s highways, according to the Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers, a Washington trade group that represents car companies. It’s been reported that SUVs account for some 24 percent of all new vehicle sales in the United States.
Many auto industry watchers contend that SUV sales were instrumental in helping American car makers maintain dominance in car sales even as they were beset by foreign competition. The formula proved to be a near instant success.
The SUV grew out of the success automakers had with light truck sales in the 1980s. Development took a low-cost approach. The makers took the steel underbodies of the pickup trucks and simply lowered onto them and bolted on different passenger compartments. “It was very cheap,” says Keith Bradsher New York Times reporter and author of the recent book High and Mighty. “You could build pickups and SUVs on the same assembly line.”
The hidden cost was the problem created by putting this extra weight up high on the pickup underbody, which created a rollover issue. SUVs quickly turned into a family vehicle favored by middle-class buyers. The vehicles were driven by people at high speeds on family vacations and people who weren’t really familiar with the extra caution and slower speeds that were needed to control a sports utility vehicle.
Problems were recognized from the beginning, but the car companies moved forward anyway. Eight months before the first Ford Explorer rolled off the assembly line, the Bronco II failed in handling tests conducted by Consumer Reports. The magazine warned its readers against purchasing the vehicle due to its stability problems.
Ford engineers were concerned that the new Explorer would have the same problems. They tested the Explorer under similar conditions and found that the prototype repeatedly tipped off the ground during tests. However, Ford management decided against making any design changes.
Even with improved controls, today’s SUV are scarcely better. The reason why rollovers are so common is simple: With a high center of gravity and a comparatively narrow wheel base these vehicles are naturally unstable. Unless the wheel base is widened or the center-of-gravity lowered, the situation can’t be improved. The results have been disastrous.
If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of an SUV rollover accident you may be entitled to compensation. The Houston-based Johnson Law Group has attorneys are ready to consult with you to see if a lawsuit is justified.
Rollovers Are Deadly
Vehicle rollovers (for all vehicles, not just SUVs) cause more fatalities than any other kind of motor vehicle accident and account for one-fourth off all deaths yearly. In 1999, 63 percent of all SUV deaths were in rollovers. In 2000 SUVs had the highest rollover involvement rate of any vehicle type in fatal crashes and SUVs also had the highest rollover rate for passenger vehicles in injury crashes – 12 percent compared to 7 percent for pickups, 4 percent for vans, and 3 percent for passenger cars.
Rollovers are especially life threatening. Although they account for just 2 percent of all accidents, they account for 32 percent of all traffic deaths according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Federal statistics show that SUVs are two to three times more likely to roll than cars. And SUV rollovers are much more likely to be fatal – 63 percent of the time in SUVs vs. about 23 percent of the time in cars.
Many SUV owners believe that SUVs are actually safer than other vehicles, and automakers have done nothing to discourage this thinking. The safety idea comes from the fiction that the bigger the car, the safer the passenger, says Brasher. “As a result, most Americans take it on faith that the only way to be safe on the highway it to be driving a tank (or the next best thing, a Hummer).”
Nothing could be further from the truth. The occupant death rate in SUVs is 6 percent higher that it is for cars, and it’s 8 percent higher in the largest SUVs. The main reason for this is the risk of rollover. SUVs don’t handle well, so drivers can’t respond quickly enough when they the hit a patch of uneven pavement or scrape a guardrail. Even a small bump in the road is enough to flip an SUV traveling at high speed. Even more dangerous, the roofs of SUVs are not reinforced to protect passengers in the case of a rollover, and the government has no requirement that they should be.
Brasher adds in his book that because of their weight and front end brakes, they handle poorly in bad weather and have trouble stopping on slick roads. Despite their spacious interiors they are so poorly designed that they are not capable of handling heavy loads. In fact additional weight or even extra passengers increase the danger. The more weight put in the back of the SUV, the less weight there is over the front wheels, which control steering and braking.
A contributing factor in the Ford Explorer-Firestone tire debacle of several years ago was that drivers weren’t told that their Explorers couldn’t carry any more weight that a Ford Taurus. The extra weight routinely piled in these big cars stressed the tires, made them fall apart, and contributed to rollover deaths.
The perceived safety issue was back in the news earlier this year with an article published in the medical journal Pediatrics. Despite their size, sports utility vehicles aren’t any safer for children, the study said. The researchers wrote that they think some parents choose SUVs because they mistakenly believe it makes their children safer.
“SUVs are becoming more popular as family vehicles because they can accommodate multiple child safety seats, and their larger size may lead parents to believe SUVs are safer than passenger cars,” said Dr. Dennis Durbin, an emergency room physician and co-author of the study. “The potential safety advantage of the added size and weight appears to be offset by the rollover risk,” said Durbin. “There’s no net advantage for kids in SUVs than kids in passenger cars.”
Tough Road Ahead
The problem with SUVs rollovers is likely to get worse as the number of SUVs on the road continues to grow. Rollover deaths per million SUVs fell about 11 percent during the 1990s, but the number of SUVs on the road soared during the same time. The result is that the number of rollover accidents and deaths climbed rapidly.
The really scary part is the same attraction that SUVs have for adults has rubbed off on teenagers. In fact, teenagers like SUVs more than any other age group, reported Bradsher when he appeared on a recent episode of “Frontline” on PBS. “These teenagers lack the driving skills to keep a sports utility vehicle on the road with all four wheels down.” This means there could be even more rollovers down the road.
Attorneys at the Johnson Law Group handle SUV lawsuit cases in Texas. The lawsuits cover all SUVs including Acura MDX, Buick Rendezvous, Cadillac SRX, Chevrolet Blazer, Chevrolet Equinox, Chevrolet Tahoe, Cherolet Trailblazer, Chrysler Pacifica, Dodge Durango, Ford Bronco II, Ford Escape, Ford Expedition, Ford Explorer, Ford Freestyle, Ford Ranger, Geo Tracker, GMC Jimmy, GMC Yukon, Honda CRV, Honda Element, Honda Passport, Hyundai Tucson, Hummer H3, Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee, Jeep Liberty, Jeep Wrangler, Kia Sorento, Kia Sportage, Lexus RX330, Lincoln Navigator, Mazda Excab, Mazda Tribute, Mercedes-Benz ML350, Mercury Mariner, Mercury Mountaineer, Mitsubishi Montero, Mistsubishi Outlander, Nissan Armada, Nissan Pathfinder, Nissan Xterra, Oldsmobile Bravada, Saturn Vue, Suburu Baja, Subaru Tribeca, Suzuki Grand Vitera, Suzuki Samurai, Toyota 4runner, Toyota Highlander, Toyota Landcruiser, Toyota Sequoia, Toyota RAV4, and Toyota Tacoma.
If you have been involved in an SUV rollover resulting in death or injury contact us today to see if you might benefit from an SUV lawsuit.