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Japaneseusedcars.co.nz - Automotive News.

SUV owners should know limitations of vehicles

SUVs are once again in the crosshairs - accused of being "unsafe" because they continue to be involved in a higher number of rollover-type accidents than ordinary passenger cars.

This issue can be looked at several ways - but the determinative factor in rollover-type accidents is very often not the SUVs themselves. Rather, it's the way SUVs are sometimes driven. Specifically, they way they are often driven inappropriately by people who don't appreciate and respect the built-in limitations of these special-purpose vehicles.

Unlike passenger cars, SUVs are not designed for safe high-speed driving - or for high-load cornering and abrupt lane-changing maneuvers. These are not indications of "defective design," however, but a consequence of the built-in features like high ground clearance and mud/snow-rated tires that give SUVs an advantage off-road in heavy snow and on rough, unpaved roads.

Drive with respect

Those off-road advantages also put SUVs at a distinct disadvantage in highway driving compared to conventional passenger cars, which have a lower ride height and center of gravity, as well as suspension systems and tires designed primarily for on-street driving.

Driven with respect for their unique capabilities and the limitations they impose, however, SUVs are no more dangerous than sports cars - which are just as vulnerable when driven in heavy snow or on rocky unpaved backwoods trails.

Yet while most people understand the built-in limitations of sports cars, you rarely hear of a person attempting to take his Corvette on a hunting trip and subsequently complaining because it slid off the mountain or got hung up on a rock.

In contrast, SUV owners regularly ignore the built-in design limitations of their SUVs and drive them no differently than they would a passenger car - or even a high-performance sports car.

Head out on any road and you'll see them all around you - SUVs buzzing along at 120, 130 kilometers per hour (or faster), their drivers weaving in and out of traffic, one hand on the wheel, the other clutching a cell phone.

Fundamentally, the problem lies with the way SUVs are driven - not with the SUVs themselves.

Mass-market vehicles

Part of the problem is that SUVs have become mass-market vehicles that have been sold to the general public as no different in their driving dynamics than passenger cars. Their on-street limitations are deliberately played down - or ignored entirely - while their "fun to drive" qualities are played up.

Modern SUVs are also deceptively easy to drive - and to drive excessively fast. As a result, many people are driving SUVs well beyond the "safety zone" and their own ability to correct for driving mistakes.

This mess is only going to get worse as the number of SUVs on the road increases. SUVs have grown from about 5 percent of all new vehicle sales to more than 50 percent today. As their popularity grows, so also will the number of needless accidents involving SUVs.

Fixing this will require two things - neither of which is a new law or mandated piece of costly add-on "safety" equipment to idiot-proof SUVs.

First, automakers must begin educating motorists about the inherent limitations of off-road vehicles - warning about their minuses as well as applauding their plusses.

Second, SUV owners need to respect the built-in limitations of their special-purpose vehicles and learn to drive them within their "safety zone" - no more cruising along in heavy traffic at 120kph or more, no zipping around corners at well above the posted speed limit. And no more tailgating so close that you have to swerve violently to avoid a rear-ender when the car ahead brakes suddenly.

A little common sense will go a long way in keeping SUVs upright and safe.


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