Anyone who has driven or ridden in a larger SUV likely knows the feeling of security that can accompany sitting a foot or two higher than the cars around you. That sense of security is not strictly psychological either. By riding higher off the ground, occupants of SUV may be less susceptible to serious injuries in a motor vehicle accident.

This extra protection in a collision comes with a price tag however. SUV’s are generally more likely to roll over in a crash, and rollover accidents regularly result in serious injuries. Though, many newer SUVs now have systems to help prevent rollovers. The other obvious drawback is that while an occupant in an SUV is at less risk in a collision, an occupant of a standard car is at a high risk of injury in a collision with an SUV or pickup truck. But a study released today by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety indicates that the increased risk to those in cars has been largely mitigated.

The relative number of fatalities to those in cars has dropped significantly in the last decade. According to the study the proportion of deaths for those in cars and minivans has dropped by two thirds.

Early in the last decade, when the risk to occupants of cars involved in crashes with SUVs became apparent, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asked automakers to work on resolving this risk.

In 2003 a series of meetings took place in which the major car manufacturers agreed to make addressing this issue a priority. This resulted in design changes in both cars and SUVs which would reduce the risk of serious injury or death to those riding in cars that are involved in a head-on collision with SUVs.

While these safety improvements are welcome, the most important safety feature in any vehicle is still the skill and attention of the driver.

Source: Wall Street Journal, Market Watch, “Car vs. SUV: Odds improve for the little guy,” Shawn Langlois, Sept. 28, 2011