It wasn't so long ago that super-sized SUVs seemed to reign supreme over the hard top surfaces of the United States. From its highways to its malls to its youth sport facility parking lots, names like Expedition and Suburban seemed to surpass more, well, European sounding names in both size and number. One almost couldn't imagine a trip to the local shop without spending at least one leg of the trip staring at the back of an eight foot tall wall of plastic and glass.
Of course some owners use SUVs for their off-road abilities or their carrying capacity. Others undoubtedly contributed to this abundance of gas guzzlers for purely aesthetic reasons. However there were some who rightly justified the initial, ongoing, and perhaps environmental costs of ownership by their belief that their vehicles ensured the safety of themselves and their loved ones.
The simple science of automobiles as recently as a decade ago was generally that the more space, and therefore gas, your vehicle used, the safer its passengers were. While seemingly exponentially rising gas prices have, to some extent, curtailed the use of the SUV as the mode of choice among many in the suburbs, recent observations of local grocery and consumer goods store parking lots suggest that more than area farmers are still utilizing oversized vehicles as every day drivers.
Can this still be justified on pure safety grounds? Or have the holdouts lost their footing when it comes to justifying SUV ownership on anything but aesthetic grounds? Recent studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety suggest that the latter may be true. Indeed it is now the case that you can own a vehicle which gains over 40 miles to the gallon while nonetheless holding a top safety rating. And while it is still true that most Hyundai Elantra and Nissan Juke owners will avoid taking their vehicles off-road, it is also true that most past and current SUV owners couldn't tell a winch from a common kitchen blender, suggesting that such functionality won't necessarily be missed in the trade for superior gas mileage...