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Big SUVs Require Big Changes in Driving Habits

24 January 2000

Rain-Slicked Roads Increase Rollover Danger for SUV Drivers

    LOS ANGELES--Since Sport Utility Vehicles were introduced 10 years ago, they have quickly become the nation's most popular cars.

    Today, there are more than 2.7 million SUVs roaming American roads. Though most consumers cite safety as the main reason for purchasing a sport utility, bigger isn't necessarily better when it comes to cars.

    While SUV passengers are less likely to be killed in a multi-vehicle crash, they are at greater risk in crashes that don't involve other vehicles. In 1997, single vehicle crashes accounted for 41 percent of all deaths in passenger cars, but were responsible for 65 percent of deaths in SUVs.

    The increased rollover risk associated with SUVs prompted the Department of Transportation to force manufacturers to upgrade warning labels late last year. Because the rollover risk increases on rain-slicked roads, drivers of vehicles with a higher center of gravity, such as SUVs, need to use extra caution.

    "Many new SUV owners don't realize the dramatic difference between driving the larger and heavier Sport Utility Vehicle and driving their family sedan," said Candysse Miller, executive director of the Insurance Information Network of California.

    "Being unfamiliar with the feel of driving an SUV can not only increase your risk of rollover in one of these large vehicles, but it can also pose an increased risk to other cars on the road."

    IINC offers the following Top 10 tips for driving SUVs safely in winter weather:

1.   Increase the distance between your SUV and other vehicles on
     the road.
2.   Do not make sudden turns or driving adjustments that could prompt
     a rollover.
3.   Use extra caution when backing up -- blind spots make small cars
     and people hard to see.
4.   Don't be a bully -- drive defensively, not offensively.
5.   Don't drive a vehicle you don't feel comfortable with.
6.   Practice makes perfect: Take your SUV for a few short spins or
     to an empty parking lot to learn how it handles.
7.   Significantly reduce driving speed in rainy or foggy
     conditions -- heavy vehicles require a longer stopping distance.
8.   Carefully check for blind spots when changing lanes, and always
     use your signal.
9.   Use headlights -- rainy conditions make it harder to see smaller
10.  Always wear a seat belt and require passengers to, as well. In
     1997, 1,088 of the 1,482 SUV occupants killed in rollovers
     were not wearing seat belts.

    Drivers of smaller cars also need to adjust their driving habits to share the road with large-scale SUVs. Tailgating an SUV is extremely dangerous because the driver may not see a small car following too closely.

    Because not all SUV drivers are accustomed to driving a longer, heavier vehicle, cutting off an SUV or stopping suddenly in front of one could increase the likelihood of a serious collision.

    The Insurance Information Network of California is a non-profit, non-lobbying media relations organization supporting the property/casualty insurance industry. IINC has spokespeople in both Northern and Southern California to discuss this and other safety issues.