Researchers at the University of Michigan and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have found that SUVs are just about the most dangerous cars on the road for all drivers – a not-so-surprising conclusion considering the size of the vehicles and the impact they have on smaller vehicles in a crash, Reuters reported.

But the risk analysis also concluded that many SUV owners rumble down the road in the mistaken belief their hulking vehicles make them safer than motorists driving smaller cars, Reuters noted.

“Our main results are that sport utility vehicles are not necessarily safer for their drivers than cars,” the report said, according to Reuters. “On average they are as risky as the average mid-size or large car, and no safer than many of the most popular compact and subcompact models.”

Reuters said the study, which the Berkeley laboratory publicised this week, comes as more and more SUVs fill US roads, and adds to the debate over whether making vehicles smaller and more fuel-efficient puts drivers at higher risk.

Reuters said the analysis was recently presented to lawmakers in Washington and compared the risk of death in traffic accidents based on vehicle types and models sold between 1995-1999 using data on traffic deaths published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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“We focused on the risk not only to occupants of the vehicle model in question in all types of crashes, but also on the risk to the drivers of other vehicles involved in crashes with the model in question,” Tom Wenzel, a researcher at the Berkeley laboratory who co-wrote the report, told Reuters.

The researchers also factored in the age and sex of the typical driver of a specific vehicle model and how that vehicle was normally driven, Reuters said. The result showed that for some kinds of cars – but not SUVs – certain characteristics played a strong role in safety.

Reuters said that, for example, sports cars were found to be extremely dangerous to their drivers, who tend to be young and aggressive while the safest vehicles were minivans, which the researchers said were typically driven with special care because they are often used to transport children.

But, according to Reuters, the report added there was no evidence a driver’s age and sex were responsible for the higher SUV risk, leaving researchers to conclude the vehicles’ weight might make them more dangerous because they are harder to control and more prone to rolling over.

“Some of the higher risk in SUVs relative to cars is due to the tendency of SUVs to rollover and the danger to these types of crashes to unbelted drivers,” the report said, according to Reuters.

According to Reuters, Wenzel said his study indicated that design, rather than size, appeared to be the critical safety factor for vehicles, noting a wide range in risks between different subcompact and compact models.

When considering the combined risks to all drivers on the road, most cars are safer than the average SUV, the report said, according to Reuters.