Are sport utility vehicles considered to be trucks?

SUV: Not really safer

SUVs are big and therefore particularly safe? A crash test by the American Insurance Institute for Highway Security (IIHS) contradicts this common assumption. The examiners examined the so-called frontal impact with little overlap. This means the case that the car does not hit an obstacle over its entire width or over a large part of the front, but only hits a corner of the front, for example, into a lamp post or a tree.

Nine sport utility vehicles, which are called "mid-size" in the USA, let the testers run into an obstacle in this way. Only two of the crashed SUVs performed well, one was acceptable. Three more showed a moderate accident safety, and three even received the judgment inadequate. Among the tested models were two that are sold in Germany: the Kia Sorento received a poor rating, the Jeep Grand Cherokee recorded a mediocre result.

Due to their mass and higher seating position, SUVs usually do better in crash tests. In this case, however, the greater dead weight is a disadvantage, because in the special accident scenario the actual crash structures in the front of the vehicle, commonly known as the crumple zone, are bypassed. Usually, the impact energy is absorbed by two side members that deform. "This is the main path through which the energy dissipates," explains Volker Sandner, Head of Vehicle Safety at ADAC. "The devastating thing about this accident constellation is that the actual crash structures are not hit at all." This means that they cannot absorb any energy either.

This is how every fourth frontal accident happens

Many vehicles have this problem with the so-called small overlap front crash. A further complicating factor in the case of an SUV is that it has a greater mass - which leads to higher crash energy that cannot be dissipated. According to the results of the IIHS, the passenger cell can be destroyed as a result. The institute, which is financed by American motor vehicle insurance companies, only introduced the frontal impact with little overlap in 2012 and has since tested various types of vehicle on it.

The accident scenario described is partly controversial among car manufacturers because it only includes a small proportion of frontal accidents. "About a quarter to a fifth of all frontal accidents happen in this constellation," says Sandner. Nevertheless, he is of the opinion that future cars must be measured against it. "In the coming years, vehicles will come onto the market that deal much better with these scenarios."

There are already vehicles that use the wheel as a shield, so to speak, on which energy can dissipate, or where the strut dome is so solidly designed and supported that the car squeezes around the obstacle. "It's about the fine-tuning," says Sandner. One vision: to construct vehicles in such a way that they can support themselves with a protective shield - whether against an obstacle or against each other and also with different masses.