Sport utility vehicle (SUV) sales are increasing despite the safety restrictions. SUV standards require the vehicle to be built for occasional off-road use. The high center of gravity feature aids off-road driving but also increases the amount of fatal accidents. It is estimated that over 90 percent of all SUVs purchased are rarely used off road. As an increased number of consumers purchase them for use in metropolitan areas, the numbers of SUVs driven off road continues to decline.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), SUVs have the highest rollover rate of any vehicle currently on the market resulting in fatalities. SUVs have 37 percent probability of rollover accidents compared to 25 percent for pick-ups, 19 percent for vans and 15 percent for passenger cars. Not only do SUVs have the highest percentage in rollovers; they have the highest percentage of injuries as well. To illustrate, this trend has dramatically increased revenues in the SUV market; however, SUVs have 9 percent compared to 7 percent for pick-ups, 4 percent for vans and 3 percent for cars.

According to the NHTSA, SUVs have the highest rollover rate of any vehicle currently on the market resulting in fatalities

The SUV continues to replace the standard family station wagon or mini van because the appearance of the SUV makes it look like a safer vehicle. Many first-time SUV buyers are not familiar with the handling of the vehicle and assume by its appearance it is more rugged in nature. The ruggedness of the SUV is ideal for off-road usage but in urban city driving SUVs can be a safety hazard to smaller and mid-sized vehicles. The higher center of gravity not only causes an increase in rollovers, but the rigid frames and high bumpers could crush smaller vehicles in fender benders.


"the appearance of the SUV makes it look like a safer vehicle."

Manufacturers of SUVs are required to place an advisory sticker in each vehicle that states: "This is a multipurpose passenger vehicle which will handle and maneuver differently from an ordinary passenger car, in driving conditions which may occur on streets and highways and off road. As with other vehicles of this type, if you make sharp turns or abrupt maneuvers, the vehicle may rollover or may go out of control and crash. You should read driving guidelines and instructions in the Owner's Manual, and wear your seat belt at all times."

This advisory sticker is a warning that may be seen by the consumer AFTER the vehicle is purchased. Are warnings given to the consumer BEFORE the vehicle is purchased? If education relating to hazards of a SUV is given, would that deter a consumer from purchasing the vehicle?

CMOS to the Rescue

The emerging market of Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) image sensors may be the solution to increasing the safety of the sport utility vehicle market. The automobile industry, as a whole, has unlimited possibilities for image sensors, especially CMOS sensors. Image sensors are designed to sense an image and then signal a reaction in response to that image sensed.

Improved Mirrors

One design involves improving traditional mirrors in vehicles by adding mirrors with a camera and a display

One design involves improving traditional mirrors in vehicles by adding mirrors with a camera and a display. With the additional CMOS enhanced mirrors, blind spots can be diminished and the driver can see how close or far another vehicle is. This can be an advantage for all automobiles; however, it is an added advantage for SUVs because the vehicle is positioned higher than most automobiles and often times larger, which may have an increased occurrence of blind spots.


"The automobile industry, as a whole, has unlimited possibilities for image sensors, especially CMOS sensors."

Controlled Airbag Deployment

The heated debate over air bag safety has many consumers concerned. Current statistics state that children under 13 years of age should be placed in the back seat properly restrained and as far away as possible from the potential deployment of an air bag. Airbags can deploy at rates of up to 200 miles per hour. Airbags are being designed with CMOS sensors to allow for "smarter airbags." Many injuries related to airbag deployment occur because the sensor is too sensitive or cannot determine the difference between simply going over a curb and a head on collision.

Defects in sensors can delay the deployment of the airbag or cause the airbag to deploy early. The smart airbag can identify whether the passenger is a child or an adult in the front seat, moreover, the technology can also determine if the driver is positioned too close to the airbag. The CMOS sensor is also being developed to distinguish between variants in driving conditions and severity of accidents. Most drivers should sit at least 10 inches away from the steering wheel in order to prevent serious airbag deployment. For SUVs this is an especially important issue because the rise of severe injuries by rollover accident is high.

The Need for Speed

Collision avoidance applications are being designed that utilize CMOS sensors. These applications are able to sense other automobiles in the immediate area. According to Smart Motorist, drivers of SUVs have a higher rate of following too close or tailgating other car drivers. For example, females who drive SUVs are 12 percent and males are 5 percent more likely to tailgate. Once a driver begins to get too close to the vehicle, the automobile will automatically slow down. These applications will be helpful to first time SUV drivers who are not familiar with the handling of the vehicle.


"The overall development of CMOS image sensors in the automotive industry can increase the safety of all motor vehicles"

Night Vision

According to NHTSA, there is usually less traffic during night time driving; however a majority of fatal accidents occur at night. Many drivers are not aware of the significant change that darkness can make in a driver's natural ability to deal with simple driving situations. Night time can greatly affect the way a driver sees his or her surroundings. The increased darkness can create natural barriers for any driver, but especially for the SUV driver along with the combination of night time driving weaknesses and unfamiliarity with driving an SUV vehicle. CMOS image sensors are currently being designed for visual driver enhancement that includes night vision and infrared. Enhancements in night time vision in combination with collision avoidance applications can significantly decrease the amount of night time fatal accidents.

Airbags are being designed with CMOS sensors to allow for "smarter airbags

Deer Frozen in Headlight Syndrome

CMOS sensors are also being developed to adjust a vehicle's headlights according to the size and positioning of the vehicle in front of them. SUVs sit higher than traditional vehicles and motorists driving smaller vehicles can be blinded by large glaring headlights of SUVs that have higher mounted headlights. This glare can cause a driver to be temporarily blinded and can lead to fatal accidents. CMOS sensors can eliminate the hazard of glaring headlights.

Full Speed Ahead

The overall development of CMOS image sensors in the automotive industry can increase the safety of all motor vehicles and especially the sport utility vehicle. CMOS image sensors are more suited for automotive applications due to the low cost of the sensor. The automotive industry is anticipating the use CMOS technology in its production line of SUVs and other vehicles around the year 2004.

By Frost & Sullivan Industry Analyst Nicole Wagner