I've long observed that many drivers in the UK choose SUVs (which are often disparagingly called Chelsea Tractors) do so at least partially because they believe such cars to be safer. I doubt this claim.
More importantly, the debate about safety has become a significant component of the US debate about fuel economy standards with some arguing against the government standards on safety grounds. For example, this article argues:
To improve fuel economy, auto makers primarily reduce the size and power of vehicles. Unfortunately, this downsizing has tragic consequences. As far back as 1989, consumer advocate Ralph Nader admitted that larger cars are safer as there is more bulk to protect the occupant. Numerous studies have proved this point. For example:
Researchers at Harvard University and the Brookings Institution found that, on average, for every 100 pounds shaved off new cars to meet CAFE standards, between 440 and 780 additional people were killed in auto accidents or a total of 2,200 to 3,900 lives lost per model year.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data indicate that 322 additional deaths per year occur as a direct result of reducing just 100 pounds from already downsized small cars, with half of the deaths attributed to small car collisions with light trucks/sport utility vehicles.
Using data from the NHTSA and the Insurance Institute for Traffic Safety, USA Today calculated that size and weight reductions of passenger vehicles undertaken to meet current CAFE standards had resulted in more than 46,000 deaths.
Of course these claims have been questioned. Here is an academic analysis that argues against the above interpretation of US data:
And there are other factors to consider. Big vehicles are probably worse for other road users. And the ones with higher centres of gravity may be more likely to roll over than normal cars.
So what does the worldwide evidence say? Do big vehicles decrease injuries to their passengers? And, even if they do, do they make the roads safer overall?