Archive for April, 2009


Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released a report today stating that drivers of “mini cars” face an increased risk of injury in collisions with other cars. The accompanying New York Times headline declares: Study Says Small Car Buyers Sacrifice Safety. Both of these miss an obvious and important point: Smaller cars INFLICT FAR LESS DAMAGE ON THE CARS AND PEOPLE THEY HIT. If we were all to switch to driving smaller cars, there would be an immediate and massive reduction in the overall damage and injuries resulting from collisions.  The message shouldn’t be, “Don’t buy small cars.”  It needs to be, “Stop buying big ones.”

In conducting its study, the IIHS ran head-on collisions between regular-sized cars and mini-cars (ie. the Smart Car). They concluded that the occupants of the mini-car were more likely to be injured than if they had been driving larger cars. But what is missing in the press releases is any analysis of how much less damage or injury is caused  to the vehicle being hit by the mini-car.

I have been driving a hyper-shortened electric car for 11 years now. Though “Sparky” is faster than most gas driven cars, I have learned to drive it defensively (those of you who ride motorcycles knows what I am talking about). But in all, I am comforted by the knowledge that if I flub up and broadside someone, they are going to be able to jump out of their car and yell at me about the damage I just did to their door. If I were driving a Buick or a Lincoln, it would probably require the local fire department to remove them from the wreckage.

The real injury being done by this one-sided report and the way the media is presenting it is the impact on the critical need for all of us to be switching to smaller cars to reduce carbon emmisions. We need to be actively encouraging people to buy more fuel-efficient (smaller) cars rather than scaring them away. To declare that switching to a mini-vehicle involves “a sacrifice of safety” is to cripple this very important movement in its very infancy.

The IIHS should revisit their data and evaluate the significant reduction in damages and injury that results from being hit by a smaller car. That’s the big news that should flow from these tests. Perhaps, then, the New York Times headline might read: Smaller Cars Save Lives.