By Tom Costello Correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/15/2005 7:29:16 PM ET 2005-03-16T00:29:16

A terrible accident in Colorado: Mother and child are thrown from an SUV as it skids and rolls down a grassy median. The 6-week-old baby — in a car seat, but not attached — is killed.

"The infant was ejected outside the vehicle near the final resting place of the vehicle," says state Trooper Ron Watkins.

Accident experts say SUVs — now more popular than ever — continue to be more prone to rollovers. Several are onthe Insurance Institute for Highway Safety'slatest list of vehicles with the highest death rates. While smaller cars — like the Mitsubishi Mirage, the Pontiac Firebird and the Kia Rio are on the list — there are also six SUVs. Among them: The Chevrolet Blazer, with the highest death rate, two models of the Kia Sportage, the Ford Explorer and the Chevrolet Tracker.

"We do tend to see SUVs, which do have a problem with single-vehicle fatal rollovers because of their higher centers of gravity," says Adrian Lund with Insurance Institute.

The findings are no surprise to the crew of Denver Fire Department's Rescue One.

"Just because there's a size difference doesn't necessarily mean the guy in the smaller vehicle is going to lose," says Capt. Joe Hibbert.

But an SUV lobbying group says SUVs are safer, because they're bigger.

"It's true SUVs tend to roll over a bit more than other vehicles, but rollover crashes are relatively rare," says Ron Defore, with SUV Owners of America.

Several SUVs are on the list of vehicles with the lowest death rates, including the Toyota 4Runner, the Toyota RAV4 and the Lexus RX-300. Also on the list: The Volkswagen Passat and minivans like the Honda Odyssey. The safest car according to Insurance Institute: The Mercedes E-Class.

The bottom line: Heavier cars and minivans generally fared better in accidents than small cars and top-heavy SUVs, and death rates across the board are coming down.

The key, say experts, is to drive defensively.

"Focus on what you're doing," says Hibbert. "Don't put your makeup on, don't use your cell phone, don't read the paper."

Sound advice from a veteran of many crash scenes.

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