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Safer SUVs = lower car insurance

By Tara Baukus Mello ·
Saturday, October 1, 2011
Posted: 10 am ET

It's common sense that the larger and heavier a vehicle is, the more likely it is to cause injury or death to the occupants of any smaller cars it collides with. But, until recently, SUVs and pickup trucks were more likely than cars and minivans of the same weight to be involved in car accidents that killed occupants of the other cars. As a result, that often made car insurance rates higher for SUVs and pickups than passenger cars and minivans.

A new study by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, or IIHS, which is one of the two agencies that provides crash test results, finds that SUVs are no longer more likely to be involved in this type of collision and the risk for pickup trucks is significantly lower than it has been in the past. The Institute points to two factors that have caused the change, each focusing on a different type of collision.

First, the front-ends of SUVs and minivans have been redesigned over the last few years so that they are lower and match up with the rear ends of cars more closely in a rear-end collision. Previously, the front ends of SUVs and pickups were higher off the ground than cars due to their higher overall ride height. In a crash, they tended to ride over the car's rear end (where all the energy-absorbing structure is located) and, in the case of a serious collision, impact the passenger compartment.

Second, cars and minivans have improved crash protection overall. Head-protecting side air bags are now standard equipment and these vehicles now have stronger designs overall (sometimes called safety cages). The result is that they fare better in all crashes, but especially side impact crashes with larger vehicles where the larger vehicle impacts the window, potentially causing injury to the occupants seated nearby.

These changes are the result of a collaboration that began in 2003 between the IIHS, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and automakers to design vehicles of varying sizes that are more compatible with each other in crashes. The changes began appearing in 2004 model year vehicles and were phased in as vehicles were redesigned over the next several years. Because all cars, SUVs and pickups have had the improvements since the 2009 model year, the IIHS could now study the impact of the changes as compared to vehicles with the older designs. While a smaller, lighter car will always fare worse that a large, heavier SUV or pickup, the study concludes that the differences in the vehicle body styles is no longer a safety concern. These factors, combined with the fact that electronic stability control is now also standard equipment, will help reduce auto insurance rates for SUVs and pickups moving forward.

Tara Baukus Mello writes the cars blog as well as the weekly Driving for Dollars column, providing both practical financial advice for consumers as well as insight into the latest developments in the automotive world. Follow her on Facebook here or on Twitter @SheDrives.

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