S.U.V.s aren’t safer than smaller cars

I’ve only just discovered Malcolm Gladwell’s 2004 article on S.U.V. safety. It’s quite the dramatic read. In typical style, he grabs you in the first few sentences:

In the summer of 1996, the Ford Motor Company began building the Expedition, its new, full-sized S.U.V., at the Michigan Truck Plant, in the Detroit suburb of Wayne. The Expedition was essentially the F-150 pickup truck with an extra set of doors and two more rows of seats—and the fact that it was a truck was critical. Cars have to meet stringent fuel-efficiency regulations. Trucks don’t. The handling and suspension and braking of cars have to be built to the demanding standards of drivers and passengers. Trucks only have to handle like, well, trucks.

S.U.V.s have appalling safety records in comparison to any other type of car, it seems. Such large cars may be better at protecting you in the event of an accident, but the inherent control difficulties result in accidents being far more difficult to avoid, more than offsetting any protection benefit. He quotes life-threatening injury risk percentages, from studies of 35mph crashes, that are just ridiculously high. A Porsche is safer than a Ford Explorer, statistically speaking.

Gladwell goes on to talk about the psychological effects that work to make people feel that S.U.V.s are safer. Sheer bulk, soft surroundings and height all contribute. Cupholders, believe it or not, are also a major factor! This leads to a discussion on the perceived risk of factors that are out of our control. It’s far more likely we’ll die in a car accident resulting from irresponsible or drink driving, but when a manufacturer recalls tyres thought to be responsible for a small number of deaths it’s big news. We’re actually far more at risk from factors we can control (to an extent) than those we can’t. This obviously resonates with the news of recent days, and the general climate of fear.

I don’t know much about cars – how do S.U.Vs such as the Ford Explorer compare to 4x4s more common in the UK?