If you drive a sport utility vehicle (SUV), its large size and weight may make you feel that your child has greater protection during an auto accident. But despite their popularity, SUVs are no safer than passenger cars in the event of an accident, say researchers from the A.I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware, and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania.
By examining insurance claims in 16 states, researchers identified 3,922 children under 15 years of age who'd been injured in motor vehicle crashes. All of the crashes involved SUVs and cars built in 1998 or later. The researchers examined how each child was restrained, where the child was seated at the time of the accident, the severity of the child's injuries, whether the vehicle rolled over during the accident, and whether the car was equipped with passenger airbags.
About 38% of the children rode in SUVs at the time of the accident, and about 62% of children rode in passenger cars. Most children in both SUVs and cars were restrained properly in a seatbelt, booster seat, or car seat, and most children rode in the back seat of the vehicle, as recommended. More children in SUVs rode in the rear of the vehicle, but the study authors note that this may have occurred because SUVs have two rows of seating in the back - more than what's available in a passenger car. In general, no matter what type of vehicle they were riding in, children who wore the proper restraints were less likely to be injured, and those who sat in the front seat were more likely to be injured.
However, SUVs were twice as likely to roll over during an accident compared with passenger cars. In both types of cars, rollover crashes increased the risk of serious injuries in children, especially when the child wasn't wearing a seatbelt. This study showed that children involved in SUV rollover crashes who didn't wear a restraint had 25-fold increased risk of injury.
Ultimately, the results showed that a child's risk of injury during an accident isn't significantly different in an SUV than it is in a car.
What This Means to You: This study found that SUVs don't offer kids additional protection during an accident, even though their large size and weight give the illusion of protection. What does make a difference, however, is properly restraining your child and seating him or her in the back seat of the vehicle. Placing your child in the back seat also helps to reduce the risk of injury from passenger air bags.
If your family is in the market for a new car, try toting your child's car seat or booster seat along to the dealership and testing it in each vehicle you're considering. Choosing a vehicle that makes it easy for you to restrain your child properly will make it more likely that you'll follow the restraint recommendations every day.
Source: Lauren Daly, MD; Michael J. Kallan, MS; Kristy B. Arbogast, PhD; Dennis R. Durbin, MD, MSCE; Pediatrics, January 2006.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: January 2006