The technical discussion titled “Vehicle Design and the Physics of Traffic Safety” by Marc Ross, Deena Patel, and Tom Wenzel (Physics Today, January 2006, page 49) is largely devoted to protecting the occupants of an automobile during an accident. Little is said about designing the car to help prevent the accident in the first place.
The article did mention poor road design and, briefly, driver error; it also referred to a vehicle’s center of gravity as a potential problem, particularly if the driver needs to swerve to avoid a collision. However, one big factor not covered is poor car design—in particular that of sport-utility vehicles, which are extremely dangerous to oncoming drivers at night.
The headlights of SUVs and popular pickup trucks are at such a height that they shine directly into the eyes of oncoming drivers. The few seconds of blindness means loss of control by the oncoming driver, and the result may be to drive near or over the edge of the road. The SUV driver may continue on, never realizing that his lights caused the accident. When the police arrive and examine the overturned sedan and injured passengers, they check for alcohol and drugs. If no such evidence is found, they still blame the driver for being asleep at the wheel or suffering a lapse in judgment.
When an SUV and a sedan collide head on, the SUV’s high bumper destroys the front end of the sedan and slams the engine into the driver’s lap. The characteristic design of an SUV—with higher headlights and a higher bumper—makes it a dangerous vehicle that should be removed from the market.