Are Small Cars Safe?

The New York Times reports on a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that found, as you might expect, that most small vehicles cannot provide the same safety protection that buyers find in bigger vehicles. Of the eight cars crash-tested, only one received passing scores on both side and rear crash tests. The Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit and Mini Cooper from BMW scored well on side tests but received low ratings on rear tests.

“A good-scoring small and lightweight car is not nearly as good as a good-scoring midsize car — that’s just the law of physics,” Insurance Institute for Highway Safety president Adrian Lund is quoted as stating this obvious fact. “If you’re really shopping for safety, then this probably isn’t your best choice.” Mr. Lund also expressed concern that only the Versa performed well in rear-end crashes because that rear-end car accident is the most common form of auto and truck accident and, while rarely fatal, can often lead to severe neck or head injuries, especially when a larger vehicle strikes it.

Putting all of this in context, the study found that the fatality rate for drivers in multiple-vehicle crashes is higher for subcompacts than for every other motor vehicle category — 83 deaths per million registered vehicles, which is more than double the average for all sizes of cars and trucks.

This blog has focused on this issue of smaller vehicles in the past. More than anyone, I would love to see us reduce our dependency on oil – particularly foreign oil – and realize that smaller cars are a step toward bringing back that reality. But at what price? The technology has not improved to where we can make compact cars safe. Isn’t the choice between more fatal car and truck accidents and great oil dependency a no brainer?

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