Last week, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released some totally astounding findings. In its front-end crash tests—pitting a Mercedes C-class against a smart fortwo, a Honda Accord against a Fit, and a Toyota Camry against a Yaris (above)—guess what? The small cars got clobbered.
This exercise to benefit the insurance industry has as much validity as telling a group of environmentalists that carbon causes global warming. The real problem, of course, is that weight, size, and all the advanced safety features in new cars, big and small, ultimately work against the push for better fuel economy, as Todd Lassa wrote in the Motor Trend Blog. “I don’t know whether your average 2009 Peterbilt conventional has airbags, but I’d bet it’s safer than the ’89 and ’99 models.”
The logic of the IIHS tells us that we should have bigger, heavier, safer, and more fuel-efficient cars—which is clearly not where the industry and its customers are headed. The Institute recognizes the problem, but offers no realistic solution. And who’s going to buy all those neat small cars with gas still at $2 a gallon and oil prices continuing to fall?
One reason people buy smaller cars is to conserve fuel. Gasoline prices skyrocketed last year, and there’s no telling what the price at the pump might be next week. Meanwhile, the gears are turning to hike federal fuel economy requirements to address environmental concerns. The conflict is that smaller vehicles use less fuel but do a relatively poor job of protecting people in crashes, so fuel conservation policies have tended to conflict with motor vehicle safety policies.
However, the IIHS likes the new size-based CAFE standards proposed by the Obama administration, a kind of leveling approach to the problems of size, weight, and economy, which is, after all, one big compromise. And (hear the cheers break out), they endorse a return to the 55-mph speed limit on our nation’s highways.
Lassa remarks, “our highways would be safer if we removed anything smaller than a midsize car, and larger than a half-ton pickup, too. Buses and semis included.”
We surely could use some fresh thinking on this subject.
Do the results of these crash tests mean anything to you? Do you fear for your life when driving small cars?