Rock and roll

Rock and roll

4th Jan 2019 6:00 am

Shapur talks about how SUVs are susceptible to rolling over.


SUVs rock. This is has been proven time and again. Off-roaders today, in fact, are so popular, manufacturers make more new SUVs than cars. And why shouldn’t they? It’s the cash register that rules.
So yeah, SUVs rock.

Problem is, they also roll. And when I say roll, I mean fall over. Primarily down to the elevated ride heights dictated by off-road driving conditions, not only are SUVs more ponderous to drive than cars at speed, they also have a tendency to land up on their roofs. Now, generally, this isn’t a good thing.

Also, please remember, a rollover is a serious, serious accident, with a much higher incidence of death and serious injury than any other type of crash. Let me explain. Take, for example, an offset crash – where you hit an oncoming car at an angle. Here you have a bit of protection. The bonnet of the car forms a buffer between you and the one-and-a-half tonne metal fist. Known as the crumple zone, this part of the car is designed to take the blow and soften it by absorbing a lot of the energy. SUVs are actually quite good when it comes to small accidents. In stark contrast, when you roll over onto the roof, all you have for protection are the spindly pillars. And then that extra weight of the SUV only adds to the crush. If you are lucky, you will roll over at walking speeds. This isn’t much of an issue. But if you are fast. . . . God help you.

And then there’s the fact that, once upside down, your car is also more susceptible to catching fire. Fact is, a vehicle rollover is among the most deadly things that can happen to you on the road. And there are stats to prove it. According to Consumer Reports in the US, “they account for about 30 percent of people killed in a passenger vehicle.”

The scary thing is that rollovers don’t just happen due to dynamic weight transfer or tyre shredding slides.

A lot more common, in fact, is the ‘tripped’ rollover. This happens when your wheel hits a kerb (quite common after an accident), causing the SUV to ‘trip’ and cartwheel and then (at times) go into a death roll. Obviously, the more weight you have high up in your SUV, the more likely you are to go over. Why do you think sumo wrestlers squat right down before the ‘crunch’? And overloading, something all SUV owners do, only tends to make it worse.

Rollover deaths in fact are such a big problem in the US, cars sold there have to pass a test where the integrity and strength of the roof is tested. The NHTSA or the safety organisation actually lists the cars according to rollover risk. The range is surprisingly wide; around 25 percent for big SUVs to around four percent for sporty low slung cars. And the faster you go the easier it is to get tripped up.

So, the next time someone tells you SUVs are safer, disagree. And make sure you tell them why.


Shapur Kotwal

  • 390 Articles

Deputy editor at Autocar India.

Shapur is at the forefront of the magazine's extensive road testing activities and oversees the test instrumentation and data acquisition. Shapur has possibly the most experience among all road testers in the country.

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