It is natural to assume that the larger a car, the safer you are. However, CNN recently reported on several popular compact SUVs that did poorly on crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The test, known as the "small overlap" frontal crash test involves the vehicle hitting a barrier at 40 miles an hour with just a quarter of the front bumper. This is so the impact can occur outside of the crash safety structures that are built on most newer cars. Conducting these tests also makes since given that small overlap collisions account for a quarter of all road collision fatalities. Another factor adding to the mix the vehicle's motion after impact. Because the off-center crash spins the vehicle, where the car goes, the occupants follow. Someone in the car is moving side to side, and that means they are not going to catch an air bag.
I have represented folks in side impact and front impact collisions. When the body, especially the head, is exposed to this force, the head is not thrown back and forth like in a rear end collision, but in a rotational manner. Many doctors will tell you that this makes for a more significant injury.
Almost at the same time I came upon the CNN article, the Oregonian reported a crash in downtown Hillsboro involving a compact SUV. This intersection crash resulted in a rollover of the SUV, with both parties claiming they had a green light. It sounds like someone was moving pretty fast, especially for a downtown intersection. Like many intersection collisions, liability is often contested, and often shared.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has a great website, offering tips on crash ratings for older cars, booster seat ratings, and interesting information on young driver licensing systems throughout the United States.