Road safety is a top concern for most drivers when choosing a new vehicle. We want the peace of mind of knowing our car provides solid protection on the road. But with so many options available today, it can be tough to know which ride is the safest.
So are SUVs actually safer than sedans? The answer depends on a variety of factors. Keep reading to learn how SUVs and sedans compare on safety ratings, features, vehicle size and weight, and other key metrics. We’ll also overview the unique pros and cons of each vehicle type when it comes to safety on the road.
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How Do SUVs and Sedans Stack Up on Safety Features?
All modern vehicles today come equipped with standard safety features intended to help avoid crashes or protect occupants in a collision. But not all vehicles offer the same advanced tech and extra protection.
When comparing sedans and SUVs, larger SUV models tend to offer more abundant safety features. Full-size SUVs have more interior space to fit complex tech and can physically accommodate bulkier equipment. Still, even compact SUVs typically include more safety gear than comparably priced small or midsize sedans.
Here are some common safety features found in both vehicle classes:
- Airbags – Front airbags are universal today. Most models also have side airbags that deploy in side-impact crashes. SUVs often have more airbags placed throughout all three rows.
- ABS and stability/traction control – These features help drivers maintain control in emergency braking or slick conditions. Standard in most sedans and SUVs.
- Rearview cameras – Required in all new vehicles since 2018 to avoid back-over accidents.
- Automatic emergency braking – Applies brakes if sensors detect an imminent frontal crash. Widely available in sedans and SUVs today.
- Lane keeping assist – Provides steering input or warning to prevent unintended lane departures. Relatively common in both vehicle classes.
- Blind spot monitoring – Alerts drivers to unseen vehicles in adjacent lanes. Much more prevalent in SUVs compared to mainstream sedans.
- Adaptive cruise control – Maintains safe distance from lead vehicle by automatically modulating speed. Often standard on pricier SUV trims.
- Collision warning – Gives audible and visual forward crash alerts. Seen on many higher trim sedans and SUVs.
- Parking sensors and automatic braking – Detects nearby objects when maneuvering at low speeds. Growing trend in sedans and SUVs.
While sedans offer respectable safety tech, larger and more expensive SUVs tend to pile on even more abundant features. Family-oriented SUV shoppers also prioritize cutting-edge aids like blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert. Overall, SUVs edge out sedans when it comes to the latest high-tech safety gear.
Crash Test Results and Rollover Risk
Perhaps the best way to compare real-world vehicle safety is by analyzing results from standardized crash testing programs. Two major organizations, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), crash test and rate hundreds of different vehicles every year.
SUVs have historically struggled in some crash tests, but most modern models perform admirably well. Full-size SUVs in particular tend to score well in frontal, side and rollover crash tests, thanks to their bulk and structural rigidity. Most midsize SUVs earn high marks too, while some smaller SUVs still lag behind top sedans.
Sedans exhibit a wider range of crash test results depending on their size class. Large luxury sedans like the Audi A8 ace all the testing with good or excellent marks across the board. Affordable large cars also hold up respectably. Midsize sedans usually rate well in frontal crashes, though they can be susceptible in side impacts with a higher risk of injuries. The smallest sedans sometimes struggle compared to larger vehicles with less cabin space to manage crash forces.
When it comes to rollover risk, SUVs are inherently more prone to tipping over due to their higher center of gravity. Sedans have a lower center of gravity and resist rollovers much better. But electronic stability control has reduced rollover occurrences in SUVs by over 40%. Ultimately, driving terrain, weather hazards and driver inputs play a big role in real-world rollover events. Well-trained drivers can avoid situations conducive to tip overs.
Overall, the very largest SUVs outscore most sedans in crash testing. Heftier SUVs like the Chevy Tahoe, Ford Expedition and Toyota Sequoia ace the tests, while some midsizers like the Hyundai Santa Fe and Jeep Grand Cherokee post impressive results too. Size and weight contribute to SUV safety, while lighter sedans face bigger challenges managing crash energy. But many modern sedans still perform admirably – especially full-size models. Shoppers should compare ratings from both agencies on potential vehicles.
How Do Size and Weight Impact Safety?
Vehicle dimensions play a key role in occupant protection. While smaller cars offer nimble handling and fuel efficiency, larger vehicles boast innate safety advantages thanks to their imposing bulk.
SUVs stand out with more size and mass to absorb crash forces. The largest truck-based full-size SUVs can tip the scales at nearly 3 tons or more – much heftier than even big sedans. The most mammoth models like the Chevy Suburban and Ford Expedition can weigh as much as 4,500-5,500 lbs. Plus, they ride higher off the ground on a stouter frame.
Even midsize SUVs weigh hundreds of pounds more than typical family sedans. The extra heft enhances safety by better managing crash energy before it reaches the occupant cabin. More mass wins out in the laws of physics, giving SUVs an edge in head-on and side impact crashes. The heaviest SUVs also inflict more damage in multi-vehicle collisions thanks to their battering ram-like build.
However, sedans are still significantly heavier and larger than the smallest cars on the road. While they can’t match the tank-like weight of SUVs, family sedans like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry still tip scales at over 3,000 lbs. Luxury cars like the Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7-Series can weigh as much as 5,000 lbs. Their solid unibody structure and respectable mass still afford ample protection.
The largest sedan or midsize SUV offers much better odds in a crash than subcompact cars weighing under 2,500 lbs. Vehicle weight correlates closely with driver fatality rates in collisions – occupants in heavier vehicles are much better off. While SUVs have the weight advantage overall, mainstream sedans still outclass tiny cars for safety.
More Passenger Space Can Reduce Injuries
Not only are SUVs heftier than sedans, they also boast more spacious interiors thanks to their boxier body style. The combination of ample weight and generous dimensions contributes to occupant protection.
More interior room gives passengers extra space to move around in a crash sequence before impacting the vehicle structures. Vehicle safety cells are also larger and stronger. Occupants have additional buffer space between their seating position and the intruding vehicle body components. Reduced risk of direct contact with collapsed structures means lower injury severity.
SUVs frequently offer three spacious rows and comfortably seat six or seven passengers. Adults can fit in the far back row, while kids have plenty of space to safely ride in rear seats. Sedans have less wiggle room and many lack a usable third row. Cramped confines can lead to more occupant contact with vehicle structures in a collision.
Boasting expansive cabin space in addition to substantial mass, SUVs again have advantages over sedans for mitigating injuries. Their hefty frames paired with abundant interior room provide protection for all occupants. Large sedans still offer safe transport for four or five, but can’t match the cavernous confines of most SUVs.
Which Vehicle Type Ultimately Offers More Safety?
Given their advantages in size, weight and interior room, SUVs tend to deliver better all-around occupant protection than sedans. There’s a reason SUVs dominate family-oriented vehicle sales – parents gravitate toward their rugged build and security.
However, some key factors determine the level of safety any vehicle provides in the real world. Top sedans can still compete with smaller SUVs. Here’s a quick overview of key considerations:
- Vehicle size and weight – Bigger SUVs with more mass hold the greatest inherent safety edge. But even midsize sedans offer ample protection compared to tiny cars.
- Crash test ratings – Many newer SUVs ace testing. But top-rated sedans like the Genesis G90 match or even outscore some SUV models. Check ratings from NHTSA and IIHS for your specific vehicles.
- Safety features – Larger and pricier SUVs tend to offer the most high-tech gear today. However, advanced options like automatic emergency braking are migrating to more mainstay sedans too.
- Driving skill – Improper maneuvering heightens crash risk in any vehicle. Expert SUV drivers mitigate rollover risks and avoid other conflicts. Sedan operators should drive cautiously considering their vehicle’s limits.
- Maintenance – Poorly maintained vehicles see reduced safety system performance. Keep any car or truck in top shape with routine service for maximum safety.
While SUVs hold an overall edge currently, remember even the most massive vehicle can’t repeal the laws of physics. No family car or truck is truly “crash proof.” Top sedans like the Volvo S90 and Subaru Legacy hold their own with ample protection for passengers too. Drivers play the most pivotal role by using sound judgment behind the wheel.
5 Essential Factors That Greatly Influence Crash Outcomes
Beyond the vehicle itself, several key variables shape the results of any collision:
- Speed – Higher speeds dramatically increase crash severity and risk of injuries or death. Obey posted limits, slow down based on conditions, and avoid aggressive acceleration.
- Seat belt use – Properly worn seat belts are the #1 life-saving safety device. Always wear a belt and verify passengers are buckled up.
- Road hazards – Watch for dangerous conditions like snow, ice, heavy rain, and debris that require extra precautions.
- Driver behavior – Fatigued, distracted, or impaired drivers cause a high portion of accidents. Stay focused and sober behind the wheel.
- Vehicle maintenance – Poor upkeep leads to failure of safety systems. Follow the manufacturer service schedule.
Drivers who mind these essential factors provide major protection against crashes. Dedicated safety-oriented operation is hugely impactful. Start with yourself before relying solely on vehicle size to stay secure.
SUV vs Sedan Safety Specs Comparison
|NHTSA Overall Safety Rating
|IIHS Overall Safety Rating
|IIHS Frontal Crash Rating
|IIHS Side Crash Rating
|IIHS Rollover Rating
|Blind Spot Monitoring
|Rear Cross Traffic Alert
|Automatic Emergency Braking
|Adaptive Cruise Control
|Lane Keeping Assist
|10-Year Driver Death Rate (per billion miles)
The Pros of SUVs for Safety:
- Superb passenger protection – Combination of generous size, sturdy structure, and abundant interior space absorbs crash energy and reduces injuries.
- Commanding ride height – Higher driving position provides better visibility so drivers can anticipate hazards.
- Available advanced safety features – Larger SUVs offer cutting-edge aids like night vision, parking assistants, and more.
- All-wheel drive stability – Improved traction and control on slick surfaces. Lessens loss of control in swerves or emergency maneuvers.
- Stronger towing abilities – Beneficial for control and stability when hauling heavy loads.
- SUV compatibility in crashes – In collisions with smaller vehicles, SUV occupants see lower injury rates.
The Cons of SUVs for Safety:
- Higher rollover risk – SUVs have higher center of gravity and are more prone to rollovers, especially in turns. Mitigated with stability control.
- Longer braking distance – More mass means SUVs take longer to come to a complete stop. Leave ample room and reduce speed in poor conditions.
- Blind spots – Their towering shape can create visibility issues. Do walkarounds and properly adjust mirrors to minimize blind spots.
- Risk of instability – When loaded to maximum capacity or improperly loaded, SUVs can become unstable and hard to control. Follow loading guidelines.
- Potential compatibility issues – In crashes with smaller vehicles, the other party is likely to see more severe injuries. Drive cautiously around smaller cars.
- Overconfidence – Some drivers feel impervious in large SUVs and take unnecessary risks. Maintain safe habits.
Benefits of Sedans for Safety:
- Lower center of gravity – With a lower stance, sedans have a reduced risk of rollovers. Their handling tends to feel more poised than tall SUVs.
- Nimble maneuvering – Sedans change direction adeptly, helping avoid crashes. Their responsive controls aid collision evasion.
- Strong crash test performance – Many modern sedans match or even outscore SUVs in standardized crash testing programs. Stellar results demonstrate their safety integrity.
- High-end safety features available – While tech like night vision scanning debuts in luxury SUVs, it migrates quickly to top sedans too.
- Compatibility in multi-vehicle crashes – Occupants in sedans fare better when colliding with smaller vehicles like subcompacts.
- Confident handling – Sedans’ lower center of gravity, responsive steering, and car-based chassis provide satisfying control for attentive drivers.
The Safety Downsides of Sedans:
- Less heft – Even midsize sedans can weigh 500-1,000 lbs less than some SUVs. Less mass means less crash energy absorption.
- Smaller overall footprint – Less exterior size provides less of a safety buffer around occupants than substantial SUVs.
- No elevated driving position – Lower seating reduces visibility for spotting road hazards early. Can’t see over other vehicles.
- Less interior room – Restricted space raises injury risks from contacting interior surfaces in a crash. No third row seating.
- Fewer family-focused safety aids – Most sedans lack abundant features like cabin cameras, seat reminders, and rear alert systems seen in family SUVs.
- Lower ground clearance – Bottoming out over rough terrain or debris creates handling issues. Higher clearance of SUVs provides stability.
While historically SUVs faced criticism over safety, modern advancements have transformed truck-based rides into secure family transport. Full-size SUVs boast huge bulk, ace crash tests, and provide generous interior space to protect up to eight occupants. Midsize SUVs also earn impressive marks thanks to stability control taming tip over risks.
Still, top-rated sedans continue holding their own through cautious handling, available tech features, and strong crash test performance. Heft and size coupled with responsible driving skills remain paramount for staying safe on the road. Drivers must focus attentively and slow down based on conditions no matter which vehicle they choose.
Overall, full-size SUVs edge out sedans for family safety thanks to their tank-like size and space. But midsize sedans can compete with smaller SUVs by matching crash test scores and providing confident road manners. Conscientious operation counts most of all. Whichever vehicle you drive, emphasize safe habits above all else.