This was largely due to the doubled risk of rollovers in
SUVs cancelling out the safety advantages of their greater size and
Researchers said the findings dispel the bigger-equals-safer
myth that has helped fuel the growing popularity of SUVs among
families. SUV registrations climbed 250% in the United
States between 1995 and 2002.
"We're not saying they're worse or that they're terrible
vehicles. We're challenging the conventional wisdom that everyone
assumed they were better," said Dr Dennis Durbin, a pediatric
emergency physician who took part in the study, published on Tuesday
in the journal Pediatrics.
Eron Shosteck, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile
Manufacturers, said he had not seen the study but cited government
research released last summer that found SUVs have become less
top-heavy since 2000 and made dramatic improvements in rollover
"SUVs have an exceptional safety record and are safer than or as
safe as cars in the vast majority of crashes," Shosteck said.
The study, which Durbin called the first on SUVs and child
safety, was sponsored by Partners for Child Passenger Safety, a
research project of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the
world's largest insurer, Bloomington-based State Farm Insurance Co.
The researchers looked at accidents involving nearly 4 000
children under age 16 between 2000 and 2003, and found child injury
rates of about 1.7% in both cars and SUVs. The study
examined only 1998 or newer cars and SUVs with second-generation
On average, the SUVs weighed 800kg more than the cars
studied. The study found that the extra weight of SUVs enhanced
safety, reducing the risk of injury by more than a third.
But that was offset by findings that SUVs were more than twice
as likely as cars to roll over in crashes.
Children in rollovers were three times more likely to be
seriously injured than those in non-rollover accidents, according
to the study.
The findings surprised researchers, who assumed heavier SUVs
were safer than cars when they launched the study a year ago,
SUV safety will probably improve because of legislation approved
by Congress this year that requires the National Highway
Transportation Safety Administration to develop standards for
carmakers to address SUV rollovers, he said.
"To the extent that SUV makers can solve the rollover problem,
we may see them becoming the safe haven for children that they have
the potential to be," Durbin said.
Carmakers already have made strides through engineering and new
technology such as electronic stability control, Shosteck said.
NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson agreed but said he hopes the study
will encourage families to check safety ratings closely before
"I think there is a segment of the buying public that may be
buying them with the false impression that they are buying the
safest vehicle they can for their families," Tyson said.