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Bigger, heavier SUVs tend to be safer than smaller, lighter sport utility vehicles. Yet many people choose to buy small and compact vehicles. Some reasons may include fuel efficiency and handling. While these are valid reasons for choosing a smaller SUV, it’s worth considering something larger. (Yet if you’re shopping for a teenager, some safety organizations recommend against going too big, as those SUVs and trucks can be too cumbersome for inexperienced drivers, and therefore more dangerous). Here are some of the top reasons why larger SUVs are safer, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

2022 Ford Expedition Timberline off-roading
2022 Ford Expedition Timberline | Ford

1. Larger SUVs are safer because they’re longer

According to the IIHS, larger SUVs are safer because they have a longer distance between the front of the car to where passengers sit. This means that in event of an accident, the car frame can be crushed more before passengers are affected. This is important because frontal accidents are responsible for more than half of passenger deaths. 

2. Heavier cars have the force advantage

Heavier cars usually keep moving forward in accidents with lighter cars and objects. Because of this, occupants in the heavier vehicle don’t receive the same force of impact that they would in a lighter vehicle. Instead, the larger car pushes that force onto the smaller car. While this isn’t great news for occupants of smaller cars, it does tip the scale in favor of larger vehicles.

3. More cabin space offers protection

Another reason that larger SUVs are safer, according to the IIHS, is that there is more space around the heads and bodies of passengers allows for more of the car to be crushed before its occupants are impacted. There’s also more room for people’s bodies to move in a collision before coming into contact with the interior of the car.

Car safety has come a long way – but it isn’t yet enough

The IIHS acknowledges that improvements in automotive safety have certainly made smaller vehicles safer than they used to be. Yet they still aren’t as safe as larger, heavier cars. The IIHS says, “A lighter vehicle will always be at a disadvantage in a collision with a heavier vehicle.”

So are people in small cars at risk?

In the past, SUV and pickup trucks had higher bumpers than cars. In accidents, these larger vehicles were crushing the front of smaller cars

SUV and pickup truck designers have modified design to be closer to cars to reduce risk for small car occupants. The bumpers and energy-absorbing parts of large SUVs and pickup trucks have been moved to be closer to those of cars. Still, people in larger cars do have a safety advantage.

If you’re shopping for a new SUV and you’re torn between two vehicles, it may be safer to choose the larger, heavier vehicle. You can use the IIHS website to check out crashworthiness scores and safety awards to make sure that you get the safest SUV possible.


Large SUVs Can Be Dangerous for a Surprising Reason