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TRAN: Should SUVs be allowed in cities?

Column: Hung Up

Though many consider SUVs to be safer than smaller cars, they can actually cause more damage than one would expect. – Photo by @nyc311 / Twitter

When you think about the typical car driven by an average person, you would most likely imagine a classic four-door sedan. If you had asked me, I would have pictured a Toyota Camry, Honda Accord or Civic. They seem like two of the most classic and common "cars" out there.

But, of the top 25 selling cars in America, these models come in at numbers 5, 20 and 25, respectively. Perhaps more surprisingly, only 6 of the 25 are sedans or compact cars. The Camry is the only one in the top 10, and 3 of those 6 are ranked between 20-25, meaning that just 3 out of the top 20 cars are small vehicles.

Within the past decade, there has been a market shift from sedans to SUVs. In fact, in 2022, sedans made up just more than 16 percent of U.S. sales, whereas SUVs comprised approximately 53 percent, with trucks almost adding another 20.

Despite being marketed as safer, people are 11 percent more likely to die in a car crash when in an SUV than a regular car, like a sedan. For the SUV driver, the most significant issue is rollover, which has a higher fatality rate than other accidents.

Due to their height, these cars have a higher center of gravity, making them twice as likely as a regular car to flip in a crash. This means that these drivers are at a higher risk of being killed than those of a sedan.

The safety advantage for SUVs is that passengers are less likely to have injuries in a crash, and larger vehicles are better when crashing into a smaller one. But larger vehicles will result in more catastrophic damage than sedans when the vehicles are of comparable size. So, as SUVs become more and more popular, the safety advantage in head-to-head crashes will diminish.

Since the size creates a greater sense of security, SUV drivers often pay less strict attention when driving, increasing the risk of crashes. And, while the height provides a better viewing and driving angle, cars that are lower to the road are easier to drive.

Further, pedestrians being hit by an SUV are more likely to die than be injured compared to a sedan hit. This is especially true for children as their full height is aligned with an SUV's front bumper, whereas a sedan is more likely to give a lower-body injury. Pedestrian deaths to SUVs are also a growing problem, as they increased by 50 percent from 2013 to 2017. 

Combined with the frame being more dangerous for pedestrians, the size and build of SUVs cause larger blindspots for the driver and obscures more of the road for other drivers, which is especially dangerous when turning. Combined, these issues mean that pedestrians are more likely to be hit and face fatal consequences with more SUVs on the road. 

Apart from safety, SUVs also bring serious concerns with their fuel efficiency. Fewer miles per gallon means spending more money on gas and more time spent refueling.

Perhaps more seriously, fuel consumption and emissions exacerbate global warming. In the decade from 2010 to 2020, SUVs were the second largest contributor to the growth in global carbon emissions. This is due to a worldwide rise, which is spearheaded by the American consumer. 

It may seem that electric cars make this a non-issue, especially with ones such as the Tesla Model Y making the top 10 list of cars sold. But on the contrary, even these electric SUVs consume more resources and electricity, which means more emissions due to the lack of fully green power. The high and rising popularity of SUVs is slowing the turn of the industry toward its climate goals. 

These issues only increase as there are more and more large vehicles, and many of these issues are common to all larger vehicles, from vans to pickup trucks. While they obviously have their uses and market, drivers should question whether they really need them or if they would truly benefit from them. 

With so many people living in cities, pedestrian safety and fuel efficiency should be prioritized. In contrast to growing efforts in making cities more accommodating toward walking and biking, SUVs seem contradictory. And since they take up more space, there is even less parking available as there are more large cars.

If there is no apparent need for a larger vehicle, then plenty of safer and cleaner options would mitigate risk and promote public health and safety.

Tyler Tran is a first-year in the School of Arts and Sciences majoring in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and minoring in Economics. His column, "Hung Up," runs on alternative Fridays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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