Safest Family Cars:

They’re not Large SUVs

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This just in:

A Greyhound bus  carrying 36 people, struck an SUV that had overturned in front of it, slammed into a concrete center divider and reportedly killed six.  Large SUVs are more easily flipped. Here is yet another example, and in this case all of the SUV passengers were killed.

And more:  In California, a driver lost control of a SUV and crossed into an on-coming traffic and hit a van carrying a young college coach and other university students. The toll wast hree people dead and 16 injured. Again,  SUVs are difficult to control and do not respond as well as station wagons or sedans in emergency handling situations. Stability control can only do so much. You can’t overcome the laws of physics.

Look at the startling number of SUV accidents and deaths listed on Google:

Let’s start by debunking the great myth that large SUVs are safer than smaller vehicles. They are not. What is worse is that people sometimes confuse them with the very safe mini-van because they can hold seven passengers. They are not. Some people feel that the high seating position makes them safer to drive. They are not. In fact that trait makes it easier for them to tip over. If you are looking to buy a large SUV you need to be prepared to pay more for insurance because of claim losses for these vehicles as well as the damage they do when involved in an accident. In essence, you are more likely to die in a compact pick-up, small sedan, or large SUV than any other type of vehicle. In addition, about one child every week is backed over and killed by the drivers of SUVs. So large SUVs are among the most dangerous family vehicles not the safest. What is worthwhile knowing is that several manufacturers have developed crossovers with SUV looks that provide a nice alternative to large SUVs. Both are easy to drive, have good visibility, are not expensive, and get good gas mileage while offering abundant interior room. Now, we are talking about the large, truck based SUVs here, not the lighter and more nimble crossover style ones. For some eye opening facts about SUVs go to

Each year, about 40,000 Americans lose their lives in motor vehicle collisions. Statistics report that one in 8.5 drivers is involved in an automobile collision and one out of nine hospital beds is occupied by an individual who was injured by a vehicle. So the selection of what to transport your family in goes far beyond fuel mileage, options, deals, or looks. It is literally a matter of life and death to many.

Before we get started on which vehicles are the safest you need to know that every model year brings out new crash testing figures. Since this article is based on an accumulation of research it is not current for this year’s models. Thus you should do your own checking using the insurance industry and government websites listed below.

There is no safest car. There is a safer driver. The more classes you take in how to drive the better you are going to be. For example, many people at an intersection when waiting to make a turn have their wheels turned in the direction they want to go. This is suicide. If another driver just taps them from behind their car will be shoved into oncoming traffic. Such accidents are extremely dangerous with high death rates. Another item you pick up from attending classes regardless of your age is following distance. You need to leave at least one car length for every ten miles an hour you are traveling. Although in today’s world that means people are going to be cutting in on you it does provide you with a guideline. Riding someone’s rear bumper is dangerous, especially in large SUVs and pick up trucks that require 30 to 50 or more feet to stop than sedans because of their greater weight.

Here is what to look for when buying a safe family vehicle. First, when you take a test drive don’t be sidetracked by gimmicks. Check emergency braking, handling, side and rear visibility, driving position, and night lighting. We highly recommend that you test-drive the car both in the day and at night. It may be time consuming, but it could save your family. Keep the radio off and don’t just stay on smooth roads. Making a short stop on a rough road could open your eyes to shortcomings with the vehicles suspension and brakes.

Safest car ratings

In the field of large sedans the Lexus ES300, Audi A4, BMW 330i, Volkswagen Passat, Toyota Camry XLE, Nissan Altima, and Subaru Legacy did quite well. Small cars that did well on crash tests were the little Volkswagen, the Honda Civic EX and the Volkswagen Jetta. Pick-up trucks, as large SUVs do not do well in crash tests. They are not subject to the same safety standards to begin with, and they are by their nature, difficult to control because of the lightweight of the bed and their great girth. Other recommendations are to always buy a pick-up with ASB and, if available, traction control. The best performers were the Toyota Tundra, the Dodge Ram, and the Ford F.150. Crew cab rating had both the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier doing well.

For 2005, the safest cars were the Mercedes E Class, Volvo S 80, Honda Accord, Mitsubishi Galant, Chevrolet Cobalt, Toyota Corolla, Acura MDX, Lexus GX 470, Volvo XC 90, and Honda Odyssey, according to the Department of National Highway Transportation and Safety and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Interestingly, one of our favorite medium sized SUVs, the Chevrolet Equinox, did outstanding in the crash tests. In past years SUVs from Saturn, Honda, and Hyundai were joined by the Lexus RX 300, Acura MDX and the Toyota Highlander as the safest in this category. We also highly recommend the Subaru Forester. However, remember that not every vehicle is  tested every year.

Minivans should always to safe and all of them performed at the top or next to the top in all categories. On the other hand, the greatest risk of death came from driving small sedans, SUVs and compact pick-ups.

Safety Related Features

Children and airbags. These are some rules to follow when driving with children in vehicles that are equipped with air bags. First, never put a rear-facing restraint in the front seat because this puts the child’s head too close to the passenger airbag. Children should always ride in the backseats. If this is impossible, the seat should be placed as far back as possible. Some vehicles, such as the very handy Chrysler/Dodge minivans, have built in child seats and restraints that are the easiest to use. Because of the danger of side impacts, especially from SUVs that have bumpers that override the safety beams required in family cars, it is best to place children in the middle back seat.

The proper use of head restraints. The purpose of a headrest in a car is to prevent the head from being snapped back in a collision and injuring the neck, especially in rear-end collisions. Head restraints should be adjusted, if possible, so that it is directly behind and close to the back of your head. If you are buying a vehicle, make sure they are adjustable.

All or four wheel drive does not improve stopping and, in reality, the extra weight, may cause longer stopping distances. On the other hand, they may provide more stability while driving on slippery ideas. Overall, unless you live where there is significant rain or snowfall the advantages of four-wheel drive are minimal for family travel.

There also have been some question as to the value of antilock brakes that make it possible to steer while applying full pressure on the brakes. We feel that this is because most drivers have never been educated as to how to stop and maneuver their vehicles when they are equipped with ABS. We feel it is necessary to practice with this option and to make sure every driver in the family knows what it feels like when the system starts to pulsate, and how it enables you to steer away from danger. It is absolutely necessary to have this option on slippery roads.

Daylight running lights have detractors, but they make it much easier to see oncoming vehicles regardless of the lighting conditions. Dark cars driving on black paved roads coming out of tree shaded lanes are almost impossible for someone to see when wearing sun glasses. Running lights prevents this. While we are on this subject, please note that in most states it is illegal to use your fog or driving lights unless visibility is limited. These high-powered units create a great deal of glare. Driving with them on just because it is night is a violation in most areas. If you find it necessary to use these lights for night driving we highly recommend you have your eyes tested and that isn’t a joke.

Teenage drivers

Teenage drivers are always a problem because they do not have the experience to drive well. They have quicker reactions, which is sometimes a problem, especially when driving a top heavy SUV. It is very dangerous to have a young driver in one of these because of their poor handling characteristics in reactive situations. This warning also applied to small Jeeps, too.  Teenagers are prone to one-car accidents and rollovers because of their inexperience and reactions. Teenagers are more than twice as likely to be involved in a rollover in SUVs than an older driver. Coupled with this instability is the fact that teens tend to use the power of these vehicles and speed. Adding a distraction such as a cell phone is asking for trouble. If you have to have a SUV the Lexus RX, and Toyota Highlander and 4Runner were involved in less fatal accidents than the others. The brochure is available from

Family conference: We think that large SUVs are very dangerous and not at all environmentally friendly as a whole. Unless you own a farm or ranch where their attributes can be put to good use other vehicles can do a safer job and reduce your maintenance costs and treat the environment a lot better. The worst offender we have found it the Hummer H2 with its 6500 pounds, poor fuel mileage, poor rear visibility, and lack of interior room they are out of their element in town. You might also want to check the Hummer’s low customer satisfaction ratings, too. General Motors, which makes the H2, has a great SUV in the Chevrolet Equinox that we highly recommend. In addition, the Saturn Relay deserves a test. Other than that the Subaru Forest, Lexus RX, Toyota Highlander, and Acura MDX are worth testing and the Lexus and Highlander are available as hybrids to save fuel costs. Big sedans such as the Toyota Avalon, Ford Five Hundred, Chevrolet Impala, Chrysler 300, and others are also well worth a long look. Take your time; your family’s lives may depend on it. We think that your best bet is always going to be a minivan from any of the major manufactures.

Helpful safety links

Top Vehicle Safety Ratings Page

Highway Crash Data

National Highway Safety Safe Car Information

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Public Broadcasting Story on SUV Rollovers

SUV rollovers

Car Safety Seats

Minivan Safety Data

Large link site to safety related data

Links to all manufacture sites