Sports Utility Vehicles

– Are They Really Worth It? Essay, Research Paper

Sports Utility Vehicles – Are they really worth it?

There has been an increase in the trendiness and consumer popularity of the Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) in the last few years, but there is no doubt in my mind that these vehicles are a danger on and off road. Not only are these vehicles beginning to overpower and outnumber cars on roadways and highways, they are beginning to outnumber them in accidents and ditches as well. Chrysler, Ford, Dodge, even Toyota and Honda are beginning to gear their manufacturers and designers into new and popular lines of SUV’s. If you are in front of one of these huge and awkward looking beasts in one of today’s compact cars, their looming and powerful threat can seem unnerving – why don’t they just pass by already? -; if you are behind one of them, good luck in seeing anything in front of around you. What happened to the good old trusty family station wagon?

In August of 1989, Elizabeth Livingston drove her Isuzu Trooper II, a sports utility vehicle, off a road near Bozeman, Montana. She attempted to drive back onto the roadway but unfortunately her SUV rolled and she was thrown from the sport utility vehicle, “suffering a fracture that rendered her paraplegic”. Elizabeth Livingston filed a liability suit against Isuzu and after the eight-day trial, a jury awarded a 2.1 million dollar settlement. During the trial a variety of evidence was used to prove the likelihood of SUV’s to roll over – “videotapes depicting rollovers of other similar SUV’s, to computer-generated simulations of the actual accident, to manufacturer’s advertisements demonstrating the manufacturers foreseability of the use of SUV’s.” (Builders: Be Upright and Fix SUV Rollovers)

One thought that is constantly coming to my mind is that even though the National Highway Safety and Traffic Association has stated that “SUV’s roll twice as often as do cars” (Poseur Sport Utility Page), some manufacturers of SUV’s are not paying enough attention to this major problem. Due to the high center of gravity on these vehicles, they are considerably more unstable than cars. Sports Utility Vehicles were originally designed to be driven off road and have the ability to roll safely, however nowadays very few are being designed with roll bars. “And to make matters worse, few meet the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration roof safety standards for automobiles [as weak as those standards are]” (Consumer Law Page). A rollover generally occurs when the driver is forced to take immediate emergency action “after steering in one direction and then being forced to rapidly correct in the opposite direction” (Consumer Law Page). It would make sense that a vehicle with such a high center of gravity would have a wide track width to counteract it, SUV’s however generally do not have a wide track width, and a prime example is the RAV4. Consequently, SUV’s will roll from rapid steering or action, rather than “skid, spin and recover,” that is common in a vehicle with a wide track width.

The U. S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the SUV the following warning: “This vehicle will handle and maneuver differently from an ordinary passenger car in driving conditions which may occur on streets and highways and off road. As with other vehicles of this type, if you make sharp turns or abrupt maneuvers, the vehicle may roll over or may go out of control and crash. You should read the on-pavement and off-road driving tips in the owner’s manual and wear your seat belts at all times”(Consumer Law Page).

Not only do SUV’s roll over more than cars do, they have inferior braking systems as well. When braking distances from 60 mph to 0 mph were compared in a number of cars and SUV’s, it was found that cars will break sooner (in less feet) than SUV’s will:

Porsche Boxster: 120 feet

Oldsmobile Intrigue: 131 feet

Dodge Caravan SE: 135 feet

Pontiac Transport: 141 feet

Isuzu Rodeo: 148 feet

Ford Explorer: 150 feet

Chevrolet Blazer: 154 feet

Chevrolet Suburban: 155 feet (Poseur Sport Utility Page).

Personally, if I had to stop immediately for any reason, I would want to be in a car I could trust to stop sooner rather than later or too late.

Not that I would wish a car accident on anybody, but chances are that most of us will be in one or more at some point in our lives. When this accident happens, would you rather be in a vehicle that you know has been known to cause high injury to its passengers or one that causes relatively little injury? According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, “In single vehicle crashes, heavy vehicles with stiff frames (most SUVs) might actually do more to harm the vehicle’s occupants because there is little give, or energy absorption engineering, to dissipate the force of running into an immovable object.” Many SUV’s have what are called ladder frames, “which are not designed to absorb collision impacts” (Poseur Sport Utility Page). One of the few ways that a Sports Utility Vehicle will come out ahead in a collision is when they are much bigger than the other car involved, working on the age old myth that “bigger is better”.

Another point of contention I have with SUV ’s are their prices and gas mileage. For one of these oversized yet trendy monsters, you will pay anywhere from approximately 25000 to 100000 dollars. Why pay that much money for an SUV that does not have good maneuverability, gas mileage, speed or safety when you can get a car with a larger engine, excellent maneuverability and good safety standards for the same or less money? A car will get approximately 26 miles/gallon in city driving; the new Honda Insight gets an amazing 90 miles/gallon in the city. Sports Utility Vehicles on the other hand, only get approximately 12 miles/gallon in the city. From an economic standpoint then, SUV’s are not worth their price.

If your aim when driving and/or purchasing a vehicle is to have a trendy and popular vehicle, then a Sports Utility Vehicle is for you. However, if rollovers, safety, braking distance, cost, and fuel efficiency are concerns of yours, you might want to look at other options before purchasing a popular SUV. When purchasing a vehicle, whether it is a car or truck or SUV, pay close attention and research what you are getting yourself into.


+ Clifford, Robert A., Clifford Law Offices. “Builders: Be Upright and Fix SUV Rollovers”. July, 1998.

+ Alexander, Richard. (The Alexander Law Firm and Alexander, Hawes & Audet, LLP. Consumer Law Page. Copyright 1994-1999.

+ Poseur Sport Utility Page. http://poseur.4× 1997


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