Vehicle customers on Long Island have purchased American models since...

Vehicle customers on Long Island have purchased American models since the earthquake and tsunami in Japan crippled that country's heavy industry, including car and parts manufacturing. These Jeeps -- from left, the Liberty, the Wrangler, and the Grand Cherokee are at Smith Haven Dodge Chrysler Jeep in St. James. (June 16, 2011) Credit: John Dunn

An insurance industry trade group says SUVs are now among the safest vehicles on the road -- if they have electronic stability control to help prevent rollovers, which most newer ones do.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, based in Arlington, Va., said a study of fatal crashes involving 2005 through 2008 vehicles that occurred between 2006 and 2009 found that minivans are safest overall but that SUVs, which are far more popular, are almost as safe.

Among the safest SUVs was the Jeep Grand Cherokee, a favorite of Long Islanders. Even safer, based on deaths of drivers in crashes, the group said, was the Honda CR-V -- and safer than either were the Ford Edge, Nissan Armada and two Land Rover models, the Ranger Rover Sport and the LR3.

"In the past, the top-heavy vehicles frequently rolled over, giving many models some of the highest driver death rates," the institute said. "With the propensity to roll over reduced, SUVs are on balance safer than cars because their bigger size and weight provide greater protection in a crash."

Electronic stability control monitors steering wheel angle and vehicle rotation around the vehicle's vertical axis to detect if the vehicle is about to travel in a different direction than the driver desires. The system automatically brakes the appropriate wheel and, in many cases, reduces power. The feature will be required starting with 2012 model passenger vehicles.

R.L. Polk & Co., a Michigan-based data provider, says there were almost 614,000 SUVs registered on Long Island in October, accounting for 24 percent of the 2.6 million light-duty vehicles here.

The institute said the overall driver death rate for the 150 vehicle models studied was 48 deaths per million registered vehicle years. (one vehicle registered for one year.) Minivans had a death rate of 25, SUVs were 28, pickups were 52 and cars 56.

Safety has long been an allure of SUVs. Martin Dekom, a reverse-mortgage specialist from Manhasset, says he and his wife had practicality and safety in mind last summer when they purchased a slightly used Saturn Outlook. "We have three little children," Dekom, 42, said in an email, "and airbags are certainly a desirable feature, but so is superior mass. Plus, because of the size, there is more crunch room, if necessary."

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