New Safety Stats Show SUVs Most Likely to Roll, Cars Least Likely

NHTSA Scores Put Mazda Cars in Two of Top Three Spots

If avoiding a rollover in a highway crash appeals to you, then you'd better forget about buying a sport-utility vehicle. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has just released its latest rollover statistics and as a group, sport-utes finished poorly. Cars, on the other hand did well in the tests.

NHTSA uses several sets of tests and information to compute the scores. It uses real-world accident data (a calculation that essentially measures center of gravity) and a dynamic test maneuver whereby a vehicle is quickly turned one way and then sharply the other way.

Mazda can certainly take a bow, with its RX-8 4-door sports car scoring best among all vehicles tested and the new Mazda3 compact sedan in third place. The Acura TL sedan finished second, Volkswagen's New Beetle Convertible was fourth overall, and Hyundai's Tiburon sports coupe fifth. The highest-ranked American car was the Pontiac Grand Prix in eighth spot.

Leader in rollover avoidance among the SUV class was the all-wheel-drive version of the Chrysler Pacifica but one could argue whether the Pacifica is really an SUV; "tall station wagon" seems a more apt description for this crossover. And which vehicle finished last? Ford Explorer's SportTrac 4x2. The 4x2 versions of the Mercury Mountaineer, Ford Explorer, GMC Yukon and Chevy Tahoe also scored near the bottom.

Some interesting facts accompanied the ratings. While having several passengers can make a low-riding sedan even more stable, high-riding sport utility vehicles become even more unstable with extra people, said R.

David Pittle, senior vice president of technical policy at Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine. A vehicle’s stability can be influenced by an array of factors, such as height, the width between tires, the design of its suspension system, tire grip, the location of the engine mount and even the weight of its sunroof, NHTSA engineers say.

Perhaps the saddest statistic to come from the government's data is one which shows that 75% of all occupants killed in rollovers were not wearing seatbelts. In this writer's opinion anyone who refuses to buckle up is not only neglecting their responsibility to family and society but is a damn fool. Unfortunately, in too many cases, a dead fool.