Diary

Some shocked, just shocked, to learn that the laws of physics apply when driving a "SmartCar." Welcome to today's lesson regarding the tradeoff between size and safety.

As has been quite evident in recent months, our Imperial Federal Government (IFG) wants U.S. automakers to abandon the production of larger, profitable vehicles that people want to purchase for smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles that customers aren’t interested in. This is being done for our collective good even though hybrid cars make up only 2% of all vehicle sales in the United States.

Why? Well, it’s for the children. And to use less gasoline. And to curb all the pollution which our Earth Mother, Gaia, must deal with. Did I mention it’s for the children? Okay, good.

Because now it appears that some proponents of all these “SmartCars” are actually promoting a product with a higher mortality rate than the sedans and sport utility vehicles that seem to get the job done just dandy right now. Evidently there is this little thing called the “Laws of Physics” that is coming into play:

You see, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety today released a study about how these uber-tiny vehicles perform in vehicle impacts.

The results? In a word: FAIL. In two words: EPIC FAIL.

Honda Accord versus Fit: The structure of the Accord held up well in the crash test into the Fit, and all except one measure of injury likelihood recorded on the driver dummy’s head, neck, chest, and both legs were good. In contrast, a number of injury measures on the dummy in the Fit were less than good. Forces on the left lower leg and right upper leg were in the marginal range, while the measure on the right tibia was poor. These indicate a high risk of leg injury in a real-world crash of similar severity. In addition, the dummy’s head struck the steering wheel through the airbag. Intrusion into the Fit’s occupant compartment was extensive. Overall, this minicar’s rating is poor in the front-to-front crash, despite its good crashworthiness rating based on the Institute’s frontal offset test into a deformable barrier. The Accord earns good ratings for performance in both tests.

Mercedes C class versus Smart Fortwo: After striking the front of the C class, the Smart went airborne and turned around 450 degrees. This contributed to excessive movement of the dummy during rebound — a dramatic indication of the Smart’s poor performance but not the only one. There was extensive intrusion into the space around the dummy from head to feet. The instrument panel moved up and toward the dummy. The steering wheel was displaced upward. Multiple measures of injury likelihood, including those on the dummy’s head, were poor, as were measures on both legs.

“The Smart is the smallest car we tested, so it’s not surprising that its performance looked worse than the Fit’s. Still both fall into the poor category, and it’s hard to distinguish between poor and poorer,” Lund says. “In both the Smart and Fit, occupants would be subject to high injury risk in crashes with heavier cars.” In contrast, the C class held up well, with little to no intrusion into the occupant compartment. Nearly all measures of injury likelihood were in the good range.

Toyota Camry versus Yaris: There was far more intrusion into the occupant compartment of the Yaris than the Camry. The minicar’s door was largely torn away. The driver seats in both cars tipped forward, but only in the Yaris did the steering wheel move excessively. Similar contrasts characterize the measures of injury likelihood recorded on the dummies. The heads of both struck the cars’ steering wheels through the airbags, but only the head injury measure on the dummy in the Yaris rated poor. There was extensive force on the neck and right leg plus a deep gash at the right knee of the dummy in the minicar. Like the Smart and Fit, the Yaris earns an overall rating of poor in the car-to-car test. The Camry is acceptable.

“Did they say that these wonderful, tiny cars are not the nirvana they were promised to be,” you may ask, “and that my loved ones have a greater risk to their safety if in a collision while in one of these?”

Now, I’m just a simple Southern lawyer and don’t know much about all these fancy-schmancy cars. I’ll let the IIHS answer for me:

Size and weight affect injury likelihood in all kinds of crashes. In a collision involving two vehicles that differ in size and weight, the people in the smaller, lighter vehicle will be at a disadvantage. The bigger, heavier vehicle will push the smaller, lighter one backward during the impact. This means there will be less force on the occupants of the heavier vehicle and more on the people in the lighter vehicle. Greater force means greater risk, so the likelihood of injury goes up in the smaller, lighter vehicle.

Crash statistics confirm this. The death rate in 1-3-year-old minicars in multiple-vehicle crashes during 2007 was almost twice as high as the rate in very large cars.

“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,” Lund says. “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. These and other factors increase injury likelihood.”

The death rate per million 1-3-year-old minis in single-vehicle crashes during 2007 was 35 compared with 11 per million for very large cars. Even in midsize cars, the death rate in single-vehicle crashes was 17 percent lower than in minicars. The lower death rate is because many objects that vehicles hit aren’t solid, and vehicles that are big and heavy have a better chance of moving or deforming the objects they strike. This dissipates some of the energy of the impact.

Some proponents of mini and small cars claim they’re as safe as bigger, heavier cars. But the claims don’t hold up. For example, there’s a claim that the addition of safety features to the smallest cars in recent years reduces injury risk, and this is true as far as it goes. Airbags, advanced belts, electronic stability control, and other features are helping. They’ve been added to cars of all sizes, though, so the smallest cars still don’t match the bigger cars in terms of occupant protection.

Would hazards be reduced if all passenger vehicles were as small as the smallest ones? This would help in vehicle-to-vehicle crashes, but occupants of smaller cars are at increased risk in all kinds of crashes, not just ones with heavier vehicles. Almost half of all crash deaths in minicars occur in single-vehicle crashes, and these deaths wouldn’t be reduced if all cars became smaller and lighter. In fact, the result would be to afford less occupant protection fleetwide in single-vehicle crashes.

Sweet Jesus, Joseph and Mary! This means that tinsy-winsy cars are going to get blown to bits if hit by something larger! Who would have thunk it!

Actually, anyone with half a brain has already figured this out: these vehicles are unsafe, unsound, and only serve to increase the chances that you will be injured if in an accident while in one of them. The other guy (the smart one, a.k.a. The Evil Capitalist With The Gas Guzzling SUV) will be just fine and able to call 9-1-1 on your behalf as you collect your body parts for the major surgery later in the day.

I know, I know. I am missing the “Big Picture.” I should be thinking of the environment and fuel efficiency and not worried about pesky safety ratings.

Let’s just keep a steady eye on the horizon for the next “Smug Alert” and keep singing Dear Leader‘s official song for his takeover the U.S. automaker industry:

I did mention this was for the children, right? Good.