Q Is there any validity to the notion that SUVs are deadlier to the people they run into than other cars? I'm seeing SUV front ends that look like they're designed to batter down the doors of meth labs. It can't be good for your karma to buy your family's safety at the cost of someone else's.
A It's not, but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says efforts launched by automakers a decade ago to reduce risks when SUVs and pickups collide with cars are working, having reduced the death rate for the people in cars by up to two-thirds.
In 2003 side air bags became standard, and automakers changed the designs of the front ends of SUVs and pickups to lower the height at which they could hit other vehicles.
In addition, the popularity of crossover SUVs means many are smaller than the oversized ones so common in the early '90s.
Q While SUVs may now be safer for those inside of them, has any progress been made to improve safety for those outside the car? I know that some manufacturers in other countries are trying to design front ends so they are less destructive to pedestrians, but I don't know if they can do that for SUVs because of their height.
The biggest problem, though, is the size of the blind spots to the rear and sides of a high and long vehicle. It makes them very dangerous around schools and day care centers, where the majority of students don't come up to the bottom of the windows.
Back-over crashes are particularly devastating because victims are usually children.
A This remains a concern even though pedestrian deaths have been on a steady decline since the 1980s, even as SUVs and pickups became more popular. For kids 12 and younger, the pedestrian death rate fell almost 90 percent from 1975 to 2010.
Backup cameras will be required on 2014 vehicles. Technology such as rearview cameras means that there is no reason drivers should have to accept a blind spot of any kind when backing up. But they can't rely solely on cameras, as kids can easily be standing next to a car outside the camera's view.
Q I'm concerned about the safety of hybrids in a crash. Are there factors that would make it more dangerous to be involved in an accident with a hybrid versus a gas-only powered car?
A You may be in for a pleasant surprise. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says the odds of being injured in crashes are about a quarter lower for people riding in hybrids than in nonhybrid versions of the same cars. The safety group says weight is the main advantage, as batteries and other components add about 10 percent to the weight of hybrids.
But there are risks for pedestrians from quiet hybrids running on electricity at low speeds. Hybrids may be as much as 20 percent more likely to be involved in pedestrian crashes. That's why newer models will be required to be equipped with synthetic sounds to alert pedestrians and cyclists when moving at low speeds.
Q I got my license renewal notice recently. DMV now requires thumbprints. When did this happen?
A Thumbprints have been required since 1982.
Q With the rainy season upon us, can you please remind drivers AGAIN that parking lights and daytime running lights are NOT adequate?
A When wipers are in continuous use, headlights must be on. That means your taillights will also be on. With daytime running lights only, taillights are not lit up.