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SUVs Are Not Created Equal

A lot of families buy sport utility vehicles because they feel safer in them. But new crash tests from the insurance industry show there's a wide range in how well different SUVs protect the people inside.

CBS This Morning Consumer Correspondent Herb Weisbaum reports on what the Insurance Institute found when it crashed the grand Cherokee and 10 other mid-sized sport utility vehicles.

It happens in a split second, so you need super-slow-motion cameras to see what's really going on in the tests.

To find out how you'll be protected if the real thing happens, technicians set vehicles up with measuring instruments and sensitive crash test dummies and then slam them into a barrier at 40 miles an hour.

The insurance industry tests are faster and more like real-world crashes than those performed by the federal government.

The Insurance Institute's latest results cover mid-sized sport utility vehicles, a group that includes best sellers like the Ford Explorer and the Nissan Pathfinder.

To the untrained eye, the crashes can look a lot alike. But Insurance Institute president Brian O'Neill points out clear differences in occupant protection.

"Here is the Mercedes M-Class, a good performer," explains O'Neill. "The occupant compartment remains intact; there is only minimal intrusion into the compartment. As a result, the driver dummy is protected.

"In contrast," he continues, "the Mitsubishi Montero sport has major collapse of the compartment, major intrusion into the driver space, and the driver dummy records high injury numbers."

When all the crashing was over, it was clear that most mid-size SUVs did fairly well. Seven out of 11 were acceptable or higher.

The institute gave the highest scores (good ratings) to:

  • Mercedes-Benz M-Class
  • Lexus RX-300, another high-end luxury SUV
  • Toyota 4Runner, a more traditional sport ute
At the bottom of the list (poor ratings):
  • Mitsubishi Montero Sport
  • Chevrolet Blazer
The ratings apply to this year's model and also to prior years for those models that have not changed. They also carry over to corporate twins, virtually identical vehicles with different names. For instance, the poor rating for the Chevy Blazer also applies to the GMC Jimmy and Oldsmobile Bravada.

Four other vehicles got acceptable ratings:

  • Mitsubishi Montero
  • Landrover Discovery Series II
  • Ford Explorer
  • Dodge Durango
The institute gave marginal ratings to:
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee
  • Nissan Pathfinder
O'Neill says vehicle designs are being improved to provide stronger protection for the occupant compartment as a result of crash tests performed in the United States and other countries.

The institute's test results are available on www.highwaysafety.org. Governmnt test results are available at www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

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