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Driving Tips: SUVs vs. Cars

Driving Tips: SUVs vs. Cars

By Jeff Youngs, February 24, 2012
Driver reaction is a critical factor in preventing any accident, but in an SUV, driver input can play an even greater role. That's because SUVs are larger, heavier, and sit higher off the ground. In short, SUVs are not as agile as passenger cars. Because of these factors, SUVs are more than three times as likely to roll as passenger cars (To learn more, read Vehicle Rollover Risk: What You Should Know). As a result, 36 percent of all SUV rollover accidents result in fatalities-the highest rate among all vehicle categories.

It's easy to forget about the different driving dynamics of an SUV and to drive as if it were a family sedan-taking corners a little faster, making last-minute turns, and traveling too closely behind other vehicles. It's when something unexpected happens and the driver has to act quickly that it becomes obvious that the vehicle won't be able to stop in time or, worse, the vehicle is headed off the road. A few simple practices, however, can help reduce the chance of losing control and being involved in a collision.

Drive at a safe speed, especially on curved roads. Since SUVs generally don't handle as well as passenger cars, it is easier to drift onto the shoulder, particularly if a corner is a bit tighter than expected. Many rollovers are caused by a tire hitting the soft soil or a curb on the shoulder, which then "trips" the vehicle, causing it to roll.

Keep steering smooth and avoid sudden, extreme turns. A sudden turn of the steering wheel, such as an emergency lane change, can also result in a loss of control, causing the vehicle to roll.

Allow extra distance for braking, especially when roads are slick. Most SUVs weigh more than cars and need a greater distance to stop than a passenger car traveling at the same speed. Allow extra distance for stopping when driving an SUV and be especially cautious on wet pavement.

Secure interior cargo. It may be easy to just toss backpacks, luggage, and other objects into the vehicle and go, but avoid this temptation. Cargo should be stored behind the rear seat whenever possible to prevent it from being thrust forward under heavy braking, sudden lane changes, or in an accident. Use interior tie-down hooks to prevent heavy cargo from sliding into the rear seatback and damaging it. A 25-pound suitcase becomes 1,625 pounds when it impacts the seat back if you come to a sudden stop from 60 mph, according to the AAA.

Keep tires properly inflated. Tires that are worn or improperly inflated are more likely to lose traction and contribute to a vehicle going out of control. Use your owner's manual or the placard on the driver's door jamb (not the numbers on the tire sidewall) to determine the proper tire inflation level for your vehicle. Remember to check your tire pressure at least once each month. Store cargo on the roof only when necessary. Using a roof rack or rooftop cargo carrier raises the vehicle's center of gravity by making it more top heavy. This alters the handling characteristics of the vehicle and can increase the likelihood of a rollover. If possible, store all cargo inside the vehicle to keep the center of gravity as low as possible.

Use caution when towing. Like a rooftop cargo carrier, towing will also change the driving dynamics of an SUV. The extra weight will result in longer stopping distances. Also, take care to avoid sudden turns, as they can cause the trailer to fishtail, which can lead to a sudden loss of vehicle control.

Check for objects around the vehicle before entering. While the higher ride height of an SUV means a better view of the road, the higher seating position makes it more difficult to see small, low-lying objects, such as a child's bicycle or low retaining walls, for example, that could damage your vehicle or injure a child. Make it a practice to walk around all sides of the vehicle before you slide into the driver's seat.
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