Home » Big SUVs Make You Feel Safer But Crash Tests Show They Can Lag Smaller Cars

Big SUVs Make You Feel Safer But Crash Tests Show They Can Lag Smaller Cars

Tmd Crash
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A big vehicle feels safe. It does. When I’m in a giant landwagon it’s as if nothing could stop me. That’s not exactly how physics works. In my head, it’s a simple equation: force = mass x acceleration and the more mass the more force. You’d think that’s a good thing if you’re behind the wheel careening towards a solid barrier.

A new test from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety shows that intuition that bigger is better might be unhelpful in crashes with heavy solid objects. The independent testing body looked at two popular full-sized SUVs, the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition, and also the Jeep Wagoneer. It looks like we found the one thing the Jeep Wagoneer is better at than the Tahoe and Expedition.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Switching topics, for all of our talk about PHEVs being great, they are a bit of a political football at the moment, especially because the revised EPA regulations are a bit tilted toward them. And while we’re on the top of regulations, it sounds like EU regs on Chinese cars will come soon.

What’s not coming soon? Congestion pricing in New York. Oh boy, am I going to touch that landmine in today’s Morning Dump? Yes, yes I am. I’m a wild man.

The Most Popular Big SUVs Didn’t Do So Well On New Crash Tests

Ford Expedition Crash Test
Source: IIHS

The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety is not a government agency, and it has a specific agenda, which is to encourage automakers to build safer cars (thus saving lives and insurance companies money). Its tests are hard and are increasingly getting harder.

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This is a net good thing. It does add some costs to vehicles, but I was with David talking to an employee of an automaker about a specific engineering decision that was made and he admitted it was to pass an IIHS test (and to be safer, which is a given). So these tests are a big deal.

It’s not like the tests are impossible. Since 2021, about 90% of new models have “sailed through this evaluation with good ratings” according to the IIHS. Welp, 90% of the big, truck-based full-sized SUVs didn’t quite sail through.

Credit Jeep, as the Wagoneer may not be the best-selling truck in the Canyonero class, but it is the only one to get a Top Safety Pick award, earning Good marks on most tests. The IIHS shows both the original moderate overlap test and the new, revised test, which includes a new focus on 2nd-row passengers and chest impacts. The Wagoneer did Good on the original test and got a Moderate score on the revised test.

The Tahoe and Expedition were more of a mixed bag:

In the driver-side test, the acceptable-rated Tahoe maintained adequate survival space for the driver, and the airbags and restraints worked well. However, there was enough intrusion into the footwell that injury measures taken from the driver dummy showed a substantial risk of lower leg injuries. Performance was worse in the passenger-side test. Extensive intrusion into the footwell contributed to a high risk of injury to the right foot and moderate risk of injury to the left leg of the passenger.

The structure of the marginal-rated Expedition did not hold up in the tests of either side. In the driver-side test, the steering column partially detached from the instrument panel, and in both tests the A-pillar separated from the rocker panel. Excessive intrusion into the footwell contributed to a high risk of injury to the driver’s right leg and moderate risk to the left. Footwell intrusion was also seen in the passenger-side test to a lesser extent.

As opposed to unibody vehicles that are expected to perform lighter-duty jobs, all of these vehicles are based on their automakers’ respective traditional ladder-frame truck chassis. While these big SUVs probably spend most of their lives ferrying around people, they also need to be able to tow a boat or perform other truck-like jobs, which adds weight.

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Tahoe Poor Crash

“These discouraging results show that some popular vehicles still lag behind in meeting the most advanced safety standards,” said Raul Arbelaez, vice president of the Institute’s Vehicle Research Center. “The good news is that the top performer in this class proves that automakers can readily address these problems.”

In spite of this performance, all of these trucks are way safer than the ones that came before them, featuring advanced driver aids and a million airbags.

[Editor’s Note: I’d like to address one thing: Even though some of these large vehicles didn’t do amazingly in IIHS testing, it only demonstrates that large vehicles aren’t necessarily safer in crashes with barriers; in crashes with smaller vehicles, the bigger ones tend to be safer. I’ll let the IIHS explain:

Larger vehicles have a longer distance from the front of the vehicle to the occupant compartment. The longer that distance, the more the frame of the vehicle can be crushed before it crushes the people inside. Long front ends only provide more protection in frontal crashes, but these crashes account for more than half of passenger vehicle occupant deaths.

Weight is important when two vehicles collide. The heavier vehicle will push the lighter one backward during the impact. That puts less force on the people inside the heavier vehicle and more on the people in the lighter vehicle.

IIHS demonstrated the role of size and weight in a series of crash tests in 2019, pairing a midsize SUV and small car made by Kia and a large car and minicar made by Toyota in collisions with each other. Both smaller vehicles, the 2018 Kia Forte and 2018 Toyota Yaris iA, had good ratings in the five IIHS tests relevant to driver protection, but they performed poorly in collisions with the larger vehicles.

It’s also worth noting that these tests just keep getting harder and harder, so just because a car today doesn’t get a Top Safety Pick, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have, say, five or ten years ago. The average car on the road is about 12-13 years, so a car without a Top Safety Pick in 2024 could still be safer than most vehicles. -DT]. 

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A Ford spokesperson also told us that:

Expedition is carefully designed to provide excellent protection for its own occupants and protection of occupants in other vehicles in multi-vehicle accidents, which were not replicated by the IIHS small overlap rigid barrier test. Designing SUVs in Expedition’s weight category to perform better in the small overlap rigid barrier test could potentially increase injury to occupants in lighter-weight vehicles involved in a crash

This is the challenge of designing for various tests, and Ford points out that the Expedition is the only truck in the class to get a five-star overall rating from NHTSA’s New Car Assessment Program.

The Plug-In Loophole

2025 Ram 1500 Ramcharger Tungsten

I think I’ve made it clear I am excited about the Ram Ramcharger, which is the kind of range-extended plug-in hybrid I think America needs more of these days. We are a pro-PHEV site, and regularly counter the anti-PHEV crowd.

All that being said, the current crop of PHEVs is a little bit of a mixed bag. How many people really are plugging in Wrangler 4xe PHEVs?

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Initially, the revised EPA regulations were going to readjust its estimate for total pollution based on the expectation that PHEVs weren’t constantly being charged up. That didn’t happen, and so there are questions of how much of a loophole this has become.

From Reuters:

The EPA’s outdated plug-in-hybrid formula gives automakers outsized credit for pollution reductions because it assumes drivers charge daily and rarely burn gas.

“Unfortunately, none of those things appear to be true in the real world,” said Aaron Isenstadt, a senior researcher at the International Council on Clean Transportation. The EPA formula gives Stellantis a reduction of about 40% in estimated pollution for a plug-in Wrangler, compared to its emissions while using gasoline. The allowance is based on its electric-only range.

A Reuters review of online Jeep forums found some owners touting the 4xe’s efficiency but others saying they don’t regularly charge it because they bought it for other reasons. One Reddit user this year reported charging twice a week and driving longer than the electric range daily: “Really it’s the torque and speed I love my 4xe for.”

Here is the problem: “One Reddit user” is not a great measure of what owners really do. Because charging mostly happens in private, at home, it’s harder to track. I think before anyone declares PHEVs a failure we need to see more data. [Ed Note: And also, 100% of users don’t have to plug in for it to make a difference. Remember, if half of 4Xe users drive electric each day instead of guzzling 20 MPG, that’s a huge win. Even a third is a win. PHEVs as a concept are good; it’s not refutable, as I make clear here. -DT]. 

A Decision On European Tariffs Is ‘Imminent’

Ora Good Cat

A grand bargain on Chinese electric cars might be coming in Europe, and I’m anxious to see what ends up happening. Will the Germans strong-arm the European Union into allowing more Chinese EVs to be sold domestically so it can sell more 5-series sedans in Shanghai? Will the French revolt, cognac sales be damned?

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The wait isn’t going to be much longer according to Mercedes-Benz CEO Ola Kaellenius.

Per Reuters again:

“A decision is imminent,” the German luxury carmaker’s chief executive told the CAR Symposium 2024.

The decision was initially due this week but was postponed until after next week’s election in the bloc.

Grab your popcorn. Or schnitzel. Or cognac. Or whatever.

New York Governor Delays Congestion Pricing At The Last Minute

Governor Hochul Unveils Second Proposal Of 2024 State Of The State The Back To Basics Plan To Improve Reading Proficiency 53440415041 O
Source: NYS

Ohhhhhh boy. For what feels like 10 million years, a coalition of groups in New York City has been fighting to get congestion pricing (a toll on driving deep into the city). There have been countless meetings, studies, et cetera.

Those folks finally got their way and the plan was about to go into effect and then… it’s delayed.

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Here’s Governor Hochul explaining why:

Circumstances have changed and we must respond to the facts on the ground — not from the rhetoric from five years ago. So, after careful consideration, I have come to the difficult decision that implementing the planned congestion pricing system risks too many unintended consequences for New Yorkers at this time. For that reason, I have directed the MTA to indefinitely pause the program.

“Let’s be real: a $15 charge may not mean a lot to someone who has the means, but it can break the budget of a working- or middle-class household. It puts the squeeze on the very people who make this City go: the teachers, first responders, small business workers, bodega owners. And given these financial pressures, I cannot add another burden to working- and middle-class New Yorkers – or create another obstacle to continued recovery.”

It’s a quirk of New York, the state, that 45% of its population lives in one jurisdiction (New York City), surrounded by a few other jurisdictions (Westchester, Long Island counties) that also contain a big chunk of the population. Because the Metropolitan Transit Authority covers not just the city but also the surrounding areas, the Governor of New York gets their say.

In my experience of living in New York this political arrangement never tends to work out for people in the city.

Reversing course this so close to the implementation of the $15 charge to access Manhattan’s central business district is absolutely whacky and the argument that it has anything to do with protecting “bodega owners” driving from, like, Scarsdale to 14th Street and 7th Avenue is laughable.  This feels like it’s a political decision.

Here’s an interesting bit from the New York Times:

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In the days before her announcement, the governor notified the White House and the top House Democrat, Hakeem Jeffries, of her plans, according to two people familiar with the conversations.

They disputed reports that Mr. Jeffries had directed Ms. Hochul to delay the plan, saying that he had remained neutral on the issue.

Ok, but:

Just two weeks ago, the governor told attendees at the Global Economic Summit in Ireland that implementing congestion pricing was critical to “making cities more livable.”

This plan is not popular with most people, because of course it isn’t, even if you think it’s a good thing. I live outside of the city and I don’t love it, either, but I also recognize that it’s much better for everyone if I take one of the very convenient trains into the city. If I don’t want to take a train I should have to pay a little more. Cars in a dense city are not fun to drive and are not fun to be around as a pedestrian.

I guess others are not as enlightened as me because there are a bunch of swing districts around the New York City area that Democrats want to win in November and delaying these plans in an election year probably helps a bit.

People who supported the plan are stunned and furious:

“You know what it is that’s making it hard for Democrats in this country? It is their lack of conviction. Republicans very clearly know who they are and what they want. And we don’t. We cower at any pressure when we have good ideas, great policies that would actually excite progressive base. The young people,” Antonio Reynoso, Brooklyn Borough President, said.

If you don’t live here I can’t quite explain how close this was to going into effect. E-ZPass was already sending out emails on how it would work and the city already put up all the expensive cameras necessary to carry out the program. What happens to them?

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What a disaster.

What I’m Listening To This Morning While Writing TMD

Here’s as poppy a pop song as you’ll ever hear, but it has a pool car, which is pretty great. Sabrina Carpenter’s first album was a little boring, but I’m enjoying this Italo-disco twist.

The Big Question

Is your daily driver safe?

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Shinynugget
Shinynugget
13 days ago

Safe is all about context. As DT pointed out the IIHS crash tests highlighted in the article pit vehicles against a fixed barrier, effectively using its own mass against itself. I feel there are some overlooked factors to a vehicles safety that are just as important as crash performance. Braking distance, driver visibility, rollover potential during maneuvers, and usability factor of a vehicle’s controls such as A/C, radio, lights etc.
The better you can see out of a car, the better chance you have to avoid a crash.
The shorter a distance in which a car can be stopped, the better chance you have to avoid a crash.
If a driver can conduct an emergency avoidance maneuver without rolling over, the better chance you have to avoid a crash.
The less distracting a vehicle’s controls are, the more the driver’s eyes are where they should be, on the road. Therefore, the better chance you have to avoid a crash.
While some of these are subjective some are not, and should absolutely be factors in safety ratings.

Turkina
Turkina
14 days ago

My reasoning why congestion pricing should be put in place ASAP: The MTA has been, for decades, deferring maintenance to save money. In addition, there are projects like the Second Avenue Subway and the Interborough Express that will be great additions to the transit system, especially the IBX because it will help outer borough residents move north to south, rather than into and out of Manhattan. You spend a lot more money by delaying these things, rather than fixing tracks, signaling, station upgrades, etc, right now.

Is the MTA a money pit? Does someone need to come in and knock heads and make changes? YES and YES. But not funding the MTA creates bills that eventually come due and the rest of NYS ends up paying for it. Caving in to wealthier people who can afford to drive into Manhattan because it’s convenient is cowardly. They use the transit system… which are the city roadways. They can pay a congestion toll. Or they can pay less and use public transit to get in. Either way, their money goes to improving work and life in Manhattan, and Manhattan making more money means more money for the state budget. Suburban commuters made their choices. They can pay to drive on Manhattan streets or they can take transit and be a better citizen. Don’t cave to the whiners.

Theotherotter
Theotherotter
14 days ago

Hochul’s decision was a stupid and politically cowardly one. The supporter’s comment about just sort of shifting with the winds and not really standing for anything seems largely correct. People who are wedded to use of their cars for everything are like endlessly whiny crybabies who just cannot wrap their heads around the value of anything that de-prioritizes their cars in any way. Cars are terrible for Manhattan, but they’ll continue to be more terrible than necessary for some undetermined period longer.

Attila the Hatchback
Attila the Hatchback
14 days ago

There’s only one solution to unsafe full-sized SUV’s. Add more structure, make them heavier. Reduce passenger count, use the extra space for more airbags! I can’t wait for a 2-seat Suburban Safe Edition with the driver and passenger sitting mid-vehicle, and no cargo allowed (since that will just crush you in a crash, anyway).

Space
Space
14 days ago

There has to be diminishing returns on all this new safety stuff in cars. A 00’s car was way safer than an early 90’s, 2010’s too, stability control was more common and AEB. But will a 2029 be safer than a 2020? My guess is not by much and truckloads of $ will be spent trying to gain that last little slice of safety. At some point safety will cost more than the lives/injuries it prevents.

Go live a little and don’t worry so much about crash test results. Everything is safer now than every car was when you were born. Let’s go for a drive and enjoy life.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
14 days ago

I’m mostly worried about safety on my daily walks. Especially when it comes to partial offset and full on collisions with solid objects. 😉

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
14 days ago

Making a special endorsement necessary for driving a vehicle over 5000 pounds and permanently requiring commercial plates on anything that qualifies for the 6000 pound tax subsidy would have a huge impact ( sorry) on road safety.
Letting beginner drivers drive up to thirteen ton vehicles is stupid.
Enforcement of the maximum headlight height laws would also be a good thing, lifted trucks may be fun but they don’t belong in traffic.

Last edited 14 days ago by Hugh Crawford
Attila the Hatchback
Attila the Hatchback
14 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Crawford

If you run for office on that platform, I will vote for you.

Turkina
Turkina
14 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Crawford

Hear Hear! Many signs on local streets say no vehicles over 5000 lbs GVWR. And buying 6000 lbs vehicles for tax breaks is nonsense. Not to mention full sized vans with tiny windows and passenger plates. Both overweight vehicles and pretend passenger vans should all have commercial plates and be banned from parkways (I live in NY, no commercial vehicles on parkways is a rule). Incentivizing large vehicles is just bad policy for many many reasons.

Querty
Querty
14 days ago

It’s sad to see the NY governor has no love for the rich, by letting the poor still drive into the city. She should enact the traffic tolls immediatelly and spare the rich from traffic misery.

SaabaruDude
SaabaruDude
14 days ago

In my experience of living in New York this political arrangement never tends to work out for people in the city.

In my experience of living in New York, The State (outside of Albany), it felt like The City strong armed the rest of the The State into policies, taxes, and all sorts of crap we didn’t want. We only went to The City when forced, so getting to pay $15 for the privilege would be icing on the cake.

Lizardman in a human suit
Lizardman in a human suit
14 days ago

Is my DD safe in a crash? Well, semi trucks are the results of this test writ large. Anything smaller is crushed, anything solid or the same size… well if you have seen that episode of Mythbusters where they crashed 2 trucks together you can tell what happens. If what comes from the front doesn’t kill you, everything coming from the trailer behind will. And even a longer nose on the truck doesn’t help. I’ve seen cabs detatch from frames, cargo punch through the cab, and engines end up in the sleeper.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
14 days ago

lol right after I posted Espresso on Discord, no less

re: Flush — Eh, I’ve seen a Lancer that tumbled down a mountain before (albeit caged). Mine’s slightly newer. I’ll probably live.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
14 days ago

So the take away here is if you drive a big BOF SUV you should only hit shit that can move.

People are like sheep. I saw the crash tests this am on TV. JFC.
I would never put anyone I cared about in one of these shit cans. YMMV.

DaFaRo
DaFaRo
14 days ago

Meh, in real life situations big-ass SUV will use the smaller cars as the crumple zone.

Sackofcheese
Sackofcheese
14 days ago

My Type R is fairly decent, and my Wife’s CX9 was a Top Safety Pick+ when new. However I think a motorcycle would be safer than my NA Miata when I commute in it.

Toecutter
Toecutter
14 days ago

Heavier vehicles have more kinetic energy to dissipate in a collision than lighter vehicles. This is part of why large SUVs/CUVs/trucks/vans are less safe crashing into heavy/immobile stationary objects. The crumple zones have more energy to dissipate.

Nlpnt
Nlpnt
14 days ago
Reply to  Toecutter

They also have more kinetic energy to shift in an avoidance maneuver and modern ones tend to have higher centers of gravity. A swerve to avoid a crash that may well be successful and lead to driving away from a near miss in a Honda Fit could easily initiate a rollover at speed in a big SUV.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
14 days ago
Reply to  Toecutter

Increased stopping distances would also like to enter the conversation. And, though not connected to weight, so would sight lines.

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