April 19, 2009

Small Cars: Is 'Safer Than Ever' Safe Enough for You?

Toronto Star: ... previous crash ratings for small cars are misleading

Wall Street Journal: Many small cars perform well in safety tests but appear, intuitively at least, to be at a disadvantage in collision with larger vehicles. Now a series of crash tests indicate the disadvantage is substantial, even when small cars collide with vehicles that don't seem that much larger. (emphasis added)

Forbes: ... no amount of airbags, electronic stability control or roll cages can defeat the laws of physics.

Though much safer than they were a few years ago, minicars as a group do a comparatively poor job of protecting people in crashes, simply because they're smaller and lighter. --- Adrian Lund, President, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) (emphasis added)

So all things being equal, if you're concerned about safety, you want a bigger, heavier car. --- David Zuby, senior vice president of vehicle research, IIHS

Scary words.

Cars have been on my mind this week. Fellow blogger Squawkfox and her husband were hit by wheels that came off a truck. Fortunately, they were not seriously hurt. Or worse.

Then the IIHS took three small cars rated tops in barrier tests and crashed them into midsize cars from the same manufacturer.
  1. Daimler: Smart fortwo vs Mercedes C300
  2. Honda: Fit vs Accord
  3. Toyota: Yaris vs Camry
Each small car dropped to lowest possible rating even though the collision speed was only 40 mph (64 km/h). The rating of Poor means a high probability of serious injury or death.

The following videos show what happened.

Daimler: Smart ForTwo vs Mercedes C300

Honda: Fit vs Accord

Toyota: Yaris vs Camry

How Much Safer Are Large Vehicles?
The Wall Street Journal reported that for minicars
  • in multi-vehicle crashes: "The death rate ... is almost twice as high as that of large cars"
  • in single vehicle crashes: "... three times as many deaths as in large cars"
In the case of Squawkfox, the flying truck wheels were like a smaller vehicle.

The Dilemma
In collisions with bigger vehicles, the forces acting on the smaller ones are higher, and there's less distance from the front of a small car to the occupant compartment to 'ride down' the impact. --- Toronto Star
We're buying smaller vehicles to save on fuel and to help the environment. Enviable goals. But we're increasing the chances of injury to ourselves. I've never been on the road in a minicar but did talk to a Smart Car representative. She explained how safe the vehicles were --- much like sitting in the shell of a walnut. How customers in accidents felt the vehicles saved their lives and returned to replace them. Seeing the crash test provides a rather different perspective.

How Safe?
There's a limit to large, though. In a collision with a truck or tractor trailer, even a big gas guzzling, road hogging SUV is at a disadvantage. If you're driving at highway speeds, the odds are against you too.

You can't have it all. If you're after fuel economy then you want a smaller, lighter vehicle. You're compromising with safety, though. If you drive in city gridlock, speeds are low thanks to volume, cyclists and buses. I average 20-25 km/h in "rush hour". That provides additional insurance.

We may have forgotten our high school physics, but those laws still apply. 


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juan70ahr said...

What has happened to basic journalism and research? If you were to go to the web sites for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (.org) or the US Dept of Transportation, you'd see that the actual highway data demonstrates pickup trucks are actually the most dangerous vehicles on the road. With a death rate of 93 or 12 points above a mini passenger car and 31 points above a midsize car.
Are SUV's safer? - Current data supports that. However, data from 1978 to 2004 shows that occupant deaths per million registered passenger vehicles 1-3 years old were either worse or equivalent between SUV's and passenger cars. What happens in a lab is one thing, what happens on the road is another. Dealing with sheer volume is incorrect stat handling. We need to compare how relatively new cars perform on the road (3 years or less) and death per those new cars on the road.
If you would like to hire me as a reporter, fact checker, or data analyst don't hesitate to e-mail me.

nancy (aka moneycoach) said...

That's really sobering. I like to think the answer is not to have to choose between Safer Gus Guzzler or Walnet Shell Eco-Friendly, but that *all* cars will get smaller so the little guys don't have to get crunched by the SUVs.
@juan70ahr There are all kinds of ways to slice & dice stats to answer any given question. In this instance, the question (a good one, given the increasing trend towards smartcars) was: How do smart cars stand up to outdated gas guzzlers, when push comes to shove, so to speak?

Small cars for sale said...

Smaller, lighter cars for sale are generally less safe than larger cars. Although there is still a lot you can do to choose the safest small car. Most of the serious accidents are in the other guy hands that are in generally the bigger car still you can't protect yourself against every danger and life is full of trade-offs. If you want to save oil and reduce emissions, but you also want to be safe. What do you do? You choose the safest car you can afford that also provides good gas mileage.

Squawkfox said...

Thanks for sending me this link! I missed your discussion when posted. I'm very fond of small cars, always have been. But when the wheel few off that semi, I know that owning a mid-sized Subaru is what lessened our physical damage. The front of our car was smushed, leaving our bodies untouched.

Cheap Used Small Cars said...

It is really a good question that Is small cars safer enough? My answer is no as now a days there are lots of accident taking place all aroud in that situation if small cars collides with big car than there no chance of small car to survive.

Old Calssic Cars said...

Small cars are not at all safe. No matter whose fault is there but if small collides with big than small will suffer more.

Cheap cars said...

I don't think we should blame size or type of car for accidents ..you are rite with your stats but they keep on changing each year ..drive safe then size of cars wont matter...

Used cars dealers said...

Yes i think small cars are safer than ever. As there is lot of traffic in which this small cars are very comfortable to drive which will help to drive safe.

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