Gas-guzzling death traps

More and more students are choosing sport utility vehicles over “regular” cars. Their choice of vehicles is often based on the common misconception that the bigger cars offer more safety. In reality, however, the larger vehicles place their drivers at a higher risk to be fatally wounded in an accident, as well as drivers of other vehicles if they were to collide with such SUVs.

A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted in 1998 showed that early SUVs were flawed in their design. Vehicles would often flip over or run over railings that had been designed to retain “normal” sized vehicles. A similar study from 2002 found, that because drivers of such vehicles are 6.6 times more likely to die in a crash than in regular vehicles, there are approximately 2,000 deaths a year that could have been prevented.

In recent weeks, the St. Petersburg Times reported on enough stories about such incidents in the Tampa Bay area to illustrate the danger without the need of such studies. On May 6, three teenagers rushing to a high school in Spring Hill were injured when their SUV flipped, crashed into a utility pole and downed the power lines the pole carried.

On May 1, a 2001 Ford Explorer swerved out of control on Lake Magdalene Boulevard, flipped several times, went through a hedge and crashed into an oak tree, killing two teenage passengers and injuring the third.

On March 14, a Ford Expedition was rear-ended on Interstate 4, catapulting one of the passengers 45 feet out a window while the SUV was traveling on an overpass.

Before SUV manufacturers address these safety concerns, customers, including students, should bear these facts in mind when they are shopping for a new car. Unless SUVs become safer, the premium price does not seem justified.