Aren't We Done Buying Big Cars Just To Feel Safe?

Americans should feel like they're safe when buying a small car. It's taken energy crises, recessions and overwhelming congestion to convince the U.S. that a "small car" isn't 17 feet long, but we're getting there. Except for safety concerns. That might be one hurdle too many for a chunk of the population.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released today the crash results of 11 of the smallest cars on sale in this country enduring the tricky small overlap test they now impose on car of all sizes. The Chevy Spark was the only one to pass, and popular choices like the Fiat 500 and Honda Fit earned some of the lowest scores in the test. This isn't good

Here's the trouble with tests like these. They give the impression that you're only going to be safe in a big car, and the IIHS doesn't do much to dispel this notion, even though new designs that aren't much bigger (Honda Civic and Mazda 3, in particular) get top scores in this test. Instead, they say stuff like this:

Consumers should remember that the Spark, while offering more small overlap protection than other minicars, weighs less than 2,500 pounds and doesn't protect as well as a larger and heavier vehicle with a comparable rating.

In today's TMS, Matt posed the question, "Do you accept when you buy a small car a tiny amount of safety tradeoff?" duurtlang had an answer:

Yes, and I think more people should too. Why? Because buying a heavy tall vehicle might improve your safety moderately, it reduces the safety of those around you more. So eventually everybody loses. That said, I wouldn't drive a Spark in a place like Texas if I have to believe the stories about the vehicular landscape there.

And followed up:

What they're saying, if I read this correctly, is that if you crash into another vehicle in stead of a fixed barrier its light weight is detrimental as the weight/kinetic energy difference with the other vehicle will be greater. However, it's beneficial to the vehicle (occupants) you crash into. That's not whom you buy your car for, sure, but that's why I'd advocate all vehicles should lose weight. Preferably by people downsizing their vehicle.

What usually happens is that people buy a larger vehicle to feel safer. So their neighbor buys an even larger vehicle to feel even safer. It's a vicious cycle which should be broken as people as a whole lose this way.

So don't buy an SUV just to feel safe. There are plenty of smaller vehicles out there that are far more nimble, fun to drive and still incredibly safe. Subaru makes some safe cars, for example. Or just drive an armored truck. At least that's more cool than a Lexus LX570.

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