Great mileage, bad wrecks

August 28, 2008
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Small, fuel-efficient cars are in and big, thirsty vehicles are out. But as consumers try to save money on gas, their odds of getting hurt increase, the Insurance Research Council warned today.

The Pennsylvania organization, which researches the property and casualty business, says its analysis of 9,140 claims involving personal injury show that people in big vehicles fare better in crashes.

People hurt in the lightest 25 percent of vehicles were hospitalized more often and lost more time at work than people riding in the heaviest 25 percent of vehicles. Lighter vehicles cost more to fix, too.

Whatâ??s light? The smallest 25 percent weighed 2,771 pounds or less. The big vehicles weighed at least 3,726 pounds.

And the council didnâ??t include people who died or suffered permanent total disabilities because the affect of those few claims would have distorted the averages.

So, how do you feel about driving small vehicles? Are they worth the risk?
  • The press release mentioned here is no substitute for real research.

    There is a growing body of scientific evidence that vehicle safety is directly related to vehicle design. Take a read of a serious study:

    Light trucks cannot safely coexist with passenger cars under existing conditions.The problem becomes particularly urgent as more and more light trucks are used simply as car substitutes.

    In response to the possibility that fuel-economy regulations might be strengthened, safety experts of major US manufacturers, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, and a 2001 study at the National Research Council have concluded that light vehicles are fundamentally less safe
    than heavy vehicles. The conclusion was based on statistical analyses in which mass was the primary vehicle characteristic considered. However, attributing the safety records of
    today’s vehicles primarily to their masses is misleading.

    Figure 6 shows how a driver’s risk of death in a typical passenger car depends on the type of vehicle whose front hits his left side. The risk doesn’t change much from subcompact cars to large cars, even though large cars are about 1.6 times
    as heavy as subcompacts. But being hit by a sport utility vehicle (SUV) more than doubles the struck driver’s risk. Compact and full-size pickup trucks are even more deadly projectiles.
  • This is just simple physics and nothing new for us baby-boomers!

    I wouldn't be surprised if the injury death statistics for those light weight vehicles aren't too far away from motorcycle statistics. People who own these small cars best be as careful as a motorcycle rider. I certainly won't be buying one of the SMART cars for this reason -- there's still going to be plenty of Hummers, SUVs, and, of course, big rigs all over the place.

    Interesting how these small cars aren't labeled 'economy cars' anymore like they were back in the late 70s and 80s when the first big change-over occurred due to high fuel prices.
  • My car weighs 3,700 lbs. and does well in crash tests. That's what I'm comfortable with. It gets 30 mph on the highway and 20-23 in town, mainly because the engine is too small. I hate riding in tin cans.
  • While I agree with the premise that larger vehicles are marginally safer than smaller ones, the study needs to combine the types of vehicles with the types of drivers who drive them (age, male/female etc) to be accurate. This is because families are much more likely to drive larger vehicles (and they have a much safer track record) while younger single people are more likely to drive smaller cars.

    Bottom line: drive what's practical for you. You could make the argument that a semi is the safest vehicle on the road but its not practical. With $4+ gas prices the practicality of a large SUV falls off a cliff.
  • Joyce--your car gets 20-23 mpg in town because it must accelerate the mass of your vehicle to speed and it must sit at idle and burn gas while it provides no forward momentum. A larger engine would use even more fuel in the city.

    But on size vs. safety, it's physics and math. The smaller vehicle cannot be as safe because there is less crush distance--and no steel beam in the door is going to stop a 3500# or even 2500# car from denting the side of your vehicle past the door if you are T-boned at 30 mph or more.

    These injuries are going to get worse over time, not better. The cost to repair will continue to rise as more technology is stuffed in cars. Just wait until your 10 year old car with those nice headlights includes a $1000 repair bill just for the headlights for that low speed accident, and the car is totaled, but you don't get paid full value. Where was the economy in that transaction?
  • Jeff, I wasn't complaining about the mileage. Actually, it's better than it might be because the engine is smaller.

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