SUVS are no safer than passenger cars according to new research from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and children riding in SUVs have similar injury risks to children who ride in passenger cars, according to the new study published in the journal Pediatrics.

Researchers said the findings dispel the bigger-is-safer sale pitch that has helped fuel the growing popularity of SUVs among families. SUV registrations climbed 250 percent in the United States between 1995 and 2002.

Rollover contributes significantly to risk of injury in both vehicle types and occurred twice as frequently in SUVs. Children involved in rollover crashes were three times more likely to be injured than children in non-rollovers.

Children who were not properly restrained in a car seat, booster seat or seatbelt during an SUV rollover were at a 25-fold greater risk for injury as compared to appropriately restrained children.

Nearly half of the unrestrained children in these crashes (41 percent) suffered a serious injury versus only 3 percent of appropriately restrained children in SUV's.

Overall, injury risk for appropriately restrained children in passenger cars is less than 2 percent.

"SUVs are becoming more popular as family vehicles because they can accommodate multiple child safety seats and their larger size may lead parents to believe SUVs are safer than passenger cars," said Dennis Durbin, MD, M.S.C.E., an emergency physician and clinical epidemiologist at The Children's Hospital, and co-author on the study.

"However, people who use an SUV as their family vehicle should know that SUV's do not provide superior protection for child occupants and that age- and size-appropriate restraints and rear seating for children under 13 years are critically important because of the increased risk of a rollover crash," Durbin said.

"We want parents to be able to make fully informed decisions regarding the choice of vehicle for their family," says Lauren Daly, MD, co-author of the study. "Ideally, a safe family car has enough rear-row seating positions with lap-and-shoulder belts for every child under 13 that requires them and enough remaining rear-row positions to install child safety seats for infants and toddlers."

Previous Children's Hospital research has shown that, within each vehicle classification, larger heavier vehicles are generally safer. For instance, of all passenger car classifications, large and luxury cars feature lower child injury risk than mid-size or small passenger cars.

Among SUVs, mid-size and small SUVs had similar injury risks, which were two times higher than large SUVs. Compact extended-cab pickup trucks present a unique risk to children -- child occupants in the rear row of compact extended cab pick-ups face a five-fold increased risk of injury in a crash as compared to rear-seated children in all other vehicle types.