SUV Safety In The NewsThe safety of sport/utility vehicles, a longtime topic of discussion, has gotten even more play in the media lately.
*The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) evaluated 12 small SUVs in a series of side-impact crashes to provide information to consumers as to how those vehicles will perform when struck in the side by a pickup or SUV going about 30 mph. The Subaru Forester and Ford Escape, both equipped with optional side airbags, performed the best in the tests and earned "good" ratings. The Mitsubishi Outlander performed the worst. An Escape without the side airbag option fell into the "poor" category along with the Outlander. Also judged poor were the Toyota RAV4, Suzuki Grand Vitara/Vitara/ Chevrolet Tracker, Land Rover Freelander, Saturn Vue, and Honda Element. The Jeep Wrangler and Honda CR-V earned "marginal" ratings, while the Hyundai Santa Fe was judged "acceptable." Why does the IIHS feel side-impact crash tests are important? The increasing sale of trucks and SUVs has created a growing amount of height mismatch between large and small vehicles, which increases the risks to occupants of vehicles struck in the side.
*That mismatch in vehicle height, also known in safety research circles as vehicle compatibility, has become a significant enough problem that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released a report with strategies to deal with the issue. Among the factors the agency is studying are a vehicle's "average height of force," which is the height at which a vehicle transfers force into what it hits; a vehicle's "self protection" features, which include structural components that contribute to occupant safety; the affects of lighting and glare and their contribution to accidents; and how corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards led to the downsizing of certain vehicles, which has had a significant impact on their safety.
*A second study initiated by the NHTSA is looking to mitigate (a fancy government word for decrease) vehicle rollovers. The agency is examining the effectiveness of electronic stability control systems and other means to improve vehicle handling. It is also attempting to come up with a dynamic rating for vehicle stability. Right now the agency's Static Stability Factor, its only rollover rating system, is mathematically based on a vehicle's track width and center of gravity and doesn't take into account how a vehicle actually performs while in motion.
*A front-page story in the Los Angeles Times said the NHTSA is looking into seat-belt design following a rise in the number of deaths of belted SUV drivers and passengers. The agency believes that the standard three-point lap and shoulder belts, which are designed to work best in a frontal impact, are not sufficiently protecting SUV occupants during rollovers, which produce dynamic forces very different from those in a frontal crash. During rollovers, belted occupants are slipping out of or under the belts and striking the pillars and roofs of the SUVs, or being ejected from the vehicles altogether, causing injury or death. The agency is looking into whether or not a pre-tensioner device, which would automatically take slack out of the belts during a rollover, might help avoid some of these problems.
Mickey Thompson Introduces 46-inch TireFor those of you who feel a 44 is just not quite big enough anymore, Mickey Thompson has released three new sizes of its Baja Claw tire, all standing 46 inches tall. The new tires are LT-rated 46x19.5s and are available in three rim diameters: 15, 16, and 16.5 inches.
Mickey T calls the Baja Claw its "ultimate off-road tire," and has designed it with a directional tread pattern for grip and self-cleaning in mud and snow, extra-large Sidebiters for traction and sidewall protection, and a six-ply lower sidewall with a cut-resistant compound. It is also available in heights down to 31 inches, if the 46s won't tuck under your fenders.