Safety features can often help you avoid an accident. But there are also other simple driving practices that can mean the difference between an accident and an incident-free drive. Size matters. Midsize cars generally weigh between 3000 and 4000 lb. Midsize SUVs weigh 3700 to 5000 lbs, and large SUVs weigh 5000 to 7100 lbs. The extra weight makes stopping and changing direction more difficult. To compensate, you should:
- Increase your following distance. If that car in front of you stops quickly, you may not be able to stop in time if you're following too close. Add a little more space than you would if you were driving a car.
- Take it easy in snow and rain. Ever notice that most of the vehicles off in the ditch during a snowstorm tend to be SUVs? That's because four-wheel drive helps you get going in adverse conditions, but it doesn't help you stop.
- Take corners at a reasonable pace. If you want to rocket through turns, buy a sports car. If you are in an SUV, take turns at a speed conducive to a lumbering, leaning beast.
- In the event of an emergency maneuver, be as smooth as you can, and don't overcorrect. This will require keeping your wits about you. When that deer darts out in front of you, you'll have to make a quick evasive maneuver. It's the second correction that usually causes problems, including rollovers. After the first move, do your best to bring the vehicle back onto your intended path smoothly and deliberately. A sudden jerk of the steering wheel can cause the tires on one side to get too much grip, transferring the weight quickly from one side of the vehicle to the other and thus triggering a rollover. If you're smooth in this instance, and don't oversteer, the weight transfer will be slower and you'll be able to maintain control of the vehicle.
It shouldn't take a tragedy like the Derrick Thomas accident to make drivers realize that SUVs can be dangerous. All vehicles should be treated with respect on the road. After all, barreling along the highway at 70 mph in a two-ton vehicle does have its inherent physical risks--and SUVs can be even more dangerous given their extra weight. However, if you make the right choice when you buy and follow some common sense driving procedures, and you can feel safe in your SUV.