Safety Tips for First Time SUV Drivers

Published May 7, 2017 by Sean Jackson

SUVs are similar to any other vehicles in that it takes time to become fully acclimated to driving them. SUVs possess a higher profile and more interior room, which might give off the impression they are safer. And while many manufacturers have worked hard to supply their models with driver-assistance technology and other safety features, the brunt of how safe your vehicle is directly correlates with your driving behaviors. The bottom line is SUVs handle differently than cars. Therefore, it’s important to take these safety tips into consideration when getting behind the wheel of one for the first time.

Gain a Feel For How it Handles

When test driving a model, an effective way to see how it handles is to take it to a secluded area like a school parking lot (on a weekend) or roads that don’t have much traffic. Once you reach your location, you'll want to test the vehicle by having it go through different maneuvers as this helps you get a feel for how the SUV responds. To demonstrate, you can do the following:
  • Accelerate the vehicle to a good cruising speed such as 35 miles per hour then apply the brakes quickly to feel how it stops. Play around with the brakes, alternating between quick stops and slower ones, similar to how you would approach a light that’s about to turn red. By doing these things, you’ll receive insight into your SUV’s stopping power. This can help you gauge how quickly or how much force you need to apply to have it stop on a dime, and since you've probably gotten in the habit of using your brakes for the stopping power available in your last vehicle, this is especially important when switching to an SUV (or any new vehicle).
  • Another way to gain a good feel for it, is to take it driving during poor weather such as rain or snow. If this weather is common where you live, you'll definitely need to test your newer vehicle out in these conditions. Along with testing its braking power, play around with steering. Conduct turns as you would normally at an intersection to see how much you need to steer to keep the vehicle in the same lane. As you test its steering, feel how fast the SUV responds to your turn and to which degree it does, especially in snowy weather. This gives you an indication of what you will have to do in regular traffic conditions.
  • Touching more on the steering end, you can’t approach cornering like you would with a car. SUVs possess more curb weight and don’t handle the same way sedans and sports cars do, so when you approach a sharp curve, you can’t expect to hug the lane at a faster speed. Therefore, find areas with longer or shaper curves and ease the SUV into them, driving at or below the speed limit. Feel how the SUV engages these turns and respond in kind. By doing these things, you’ll know which speed to approach sharper curves at.

Understand Your Surroundings

If you are used to driving a car, you might have had the predilection to zip through tight spots, make turns at the last minute and more because your vehicle possessed the capability to do these things. The same doesn’t apply to SUVs. SUVs sit higher up, allowing you to capture more of the road in front of you. At the same time, because your vehicle is larger, it reduces the vision of other drivers behind you. With this in mind, they might rely on you more because of their visibility limitations. Due to this, you should try to act accordingly. If you want to change lanes, activate the turn signal then wait for a second or two more than normal before making the turn. Additionally, when you need to stop, slow down steadily instead of slamming on your brakes--if you can help it that is. On the other side of this, driving an SUV means you have more vehicle to account for when conducting turns or backing out of a parking spot. Thankfully, it’s the norm for most manufacturers to include equipment such as a rear camera to increase your visibility. However, it’s important to use this as only one aspect of gathering your surroundings. Some cameras don’t provide a full view around the vehicle, meaning you only see what’s going on directly behind you, not to the sides. So, if you make decisions based on limited information, it results in more risk. Along with the camera, be sure to check over your shoulders and use your rearview mirror. If you don’t feel comfortable moving out of a parking spot, wait until the current flow of traffic dies down before proceeding.

Learn Its Power Capabilities

SUVS, even compact ones, come equipped with engines that deliver zippy acceleration. The key is to learn how long it takes your SUV to reach and maintain the speed needed relative to the traffic laws and current conditions. While it isn’t advisable to push the pedal to the metal each time you step behind the wheel, at first, it’s important to see how fast your SUV accelerates. To do this, pick an area where you need to speed quickly, like an entrance ramp onto an interstate. Test how fast the vehicle responds to your demands. What you will notice is unless you are driving a high-performance SUV, it takes some time to reach your desired speed. The reason for this is SUVs have more curb weight than most cars, so it requires more energy from the drive systems to meet your speed requirements. Since weight is a crucial component, you should do all you can to keep it light. While there isn’t much you can do from a passenger standpoint, you can control the amount and method of cargo during your trips. If you don’t plan to use a heavier item, be sure to take it out once you reach home. Moreover, don’t use accessories like roof racks to store your cargo. The reason for this is the more you store on your SUV’s roof, the more it reduces its wind resistance, resulting in the SUV working harder to achieve the power you want. Not only will you feel a lag when powering the SUV, it reduces the vehicle’s fuel efficiency too. While you can't always control all the above points, doing your best to factor in these suggestions to your particular situation can help keep others and yourself safe, keep your SUV fuel efficient, and have you driving an SUV like a pro in no time.

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