SUV rollover statistics – the facts

Volvo XC90 rollover test

It seems like a morbid subject. Who really wants to find out whether their car is susceptible to rolling over?

Let’s be realistic – when researching to buy an SUV, rollover statistics may be at the forefront of your mind. After all, most buyers want to be sure that the SUV they purchase is safe.

Of course, you can look through all the safety ratings you can but there aren’t actually many systems in place to tell you how safe your vehicle will be in a rollover accident. In fact, most crash tests only show how a car performs when it’s slammed into another car, or into a solid object.

You can see from the video below that some car companies actually do their own testing (Volvo has been doing this for years) to ensure their SUVs hold up well in a rollover. But before that, there are many companies that are writing anti-roll programs into their stability control software.

The logic goes that because and SUV sits higher off the ground, it is more likely to be involved in a rollover. Which is why car companies will usually use the stability control to prevent the vehicle from sliding, which then prevents rolling over. After all, an SUV isn’t going to just roll over when driving straight.

So what causes rollovers? And are SUVs worse than passenger cars? We’ve done the research on SUV rollover statistics so you can be informed when considering whether an SUV is right for you.

Rollovers are actually one of the most dangerous kinds of crashes

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2010 there were nearly 9.1 million passenger car, SUV, pickup and van crashes. Of those only 2.1% involved a rollover accident. But the more worrying statistic is that despite the low number of rollovers in total, around 35 per cent of all deaths from passenger vehicle crashes came from rollovers.

In that same year – 2010 – more than 7,600 people died as a result of rollover crashes. But here’s where common sense comes into it – more than 69 per cent of people killed in rollovers were not wearing seat belts.

Sorry, but this is stupidity of the highest order. In this day and age, who doesn’t wear a seatbelt? And think about it. Over two-thirds of people killed in rollovers could have been saved by just taking the extra three seconds to click themselves in.

Yes, folks – three seconds. Time yourself the next time you buckle up. It’s a lot quicker than you think.

If the buying public simply changed this behaviour alone, we would save many more lives, SUVs or no SUVs.

But let’s discuss sport utility vehicles. While rollovers are caused by a variety of factors, the susceptibility to rolling over comes down to physics.

Are SUVs more likely to roll over than passenger vehicles?

We hate to say it, but the short answer is yes.

It makes sense when you think about it. While driver experience, road conditions, surface grip, tyres, and suspension setups all make a difference, there’s one thing SUVs can’t get away from – taller, skinnier vehicles like SUVs, pick-up trucks, and commercial vehicles like vans have a higher centre of gravity. When that starts to tip, they are more likely to roll over.

There’s a good demonstration of the types of rollovers that the NHTSA has published on its website. It’s worth checking out.

Basically, there are two types of rollover: tripped, and untripped.

In the tripped category the factors which cause the rollover are:

  • Soft Soil – when an SUV leaves the road and the tyres dig into the soil
  • Guardrail – if the SUV slams into the rail and flips
  • Steep Slope – again, when it leaves the road and falls down the slope

The untripped type occurs due to a high centre of gravity in an avoidance maneuver.  This is what most SUVs suffer from.

But all of these different types happen because of various circumstances illustrated in that link above. So if you avoid getting into a situation which leads into a rollover, then your chances of having an accident are seriously reduced.

Data from the NHTSA also shows that speed and alcohol have a bearing, whether an SUV is involved or not. Eliminating these two factors will go a long way to preventing rollover accidents.

What can I do to make sure I’m protected in a rollover?

Firstly, make sure you’re wearing your seat-belt. Over half of people involved in rollovers are ejected from the car, so making sure the seat belt is on is going to go a long way to keeping you safe.

Make sure your tyres are road legal. If an SUV doesn’t slide, it’s going to be far less likely to lose control and end up in a rollover accident.

Ensure that you buy a five star rated car. Check out the video from Volvo and its XC90 rollover test below. As you can see, a five star rated vehicle will protect its occupants.

The reason is that roof intrusion injury as well as head contact with the roof are two factors which kill people. Having a car that withstands the crushing forces will ensure you are more likely to survive.

Pay attention. Keep your eyes on the road, and not on your phone. Look around and notice what’s going on. An interesting campaign from the Western Australian road safety council highlighted this (watch below).

Don’t make sudden steering inputs. Keep a calm and steady turn and the vehicle is less likely to tip.

An SUV doesn’t guarantee safety

Part of the problem is that more than four in ten Americans believe they are safer in an SUV than in a passenger car. And while that may be true in certain crashes, a rollover highlights the need to be extra careful when manoeuvring.

SUVs are great vehicles, but need to be treated with care, like any other vehicle on the road.

Drive to stay alive.

About Karl Peskett 435 Articles
A passionate writer, editor and driver, Karl is the go-to man when it comes to four wheels. With stints in television, radio, print and online, Karl has been writing about cars for more than a decade. He drives around 100 vehicles every year and has tested everything from Bugattis to Suzukis. Sometimes on track, sometimes off-road, his focus is on producing objective journalism without fear or favour.

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