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Old 06-22-2008, 01:57 PM   #41
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I'm curious...several of you imply that you would never drive a small vehicle like the Honda Fit because it's too small and you consider it unsafe on the roads. At what point would you consider driving a car like the Fit? When gas hits $10/gallon....$20/gallon....when 80% of vehicles on the road are compact cars or smaller? 90%? Just what would it take? Or is that something you would never consider doing because you view it as too unsafe at any cost?
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Old 06-22-2008, 02:08 PM   #42
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Originally Posted by samclem View Post
The crash test programs (e.g. the very good program run by IIHS) almost always compare vehicles in the same weight class. That is because weight is such an important over-riding factor in crash performance (especially against vehicles of different mass) that it would overwhelm most differences caused by good vehicle design, etc.
We haven't been talking about crash ratings. My point is that most people think larger, heavier cars are always safer. Most of my friends think their teenage driving kids are safer driving the family SUVs than they are driving any smaller car. The photos in the link above show that a driver in a well engineered smaller car in better off than in a large truck when driving into a brick wall. Better engineering makes a huge difference.

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There are two reasons:
Momentum--you can't repeal this with engineering. If a 4000# chunk crumpleable steel going 60 mph hits a 2000# chunk of crumpleable steel 60 mph head-on (assume a perfectly inelastic collision) , they both end up going the same direction as the 4000# chunk was going, but at 20 mph. In the very brief time of the collision, which chunk endured the bigger acceleration:
Of course, no one is saying otherwise. A smaller car has more force to deal with in a head on collision with a larger car. F=MA tells us that. The question becomes how well does each deal with the force. Clearly the mini and other smaller cars are better engineered to deal with that force than many larger cars.

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Space: Heavier cars tend to be more voluminous as well, offering more crush space and crushable structure. Given the same degree of good engineering,
Ahhh! and that's just the point. Many larger cars are very poorly designed for safety and thus are not as safe as they should be or as safe as some smaller cars. Yes, all things being equal, larger cars will be safer than smaller ones. But all things are not equal.

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Yes, good engineering and designing for crashworthiness is very important, but weight is also a huge factor.
Yes weight is a factor but not the end all most people think.

Read the New Yorker article and it describes the safety testing that Consumer Reports does at their testing facility in Connecticut. They describe a test between a Chevy Trailblazer and a Porsche Boxster (Ok, not a typical small car) and says:

"Most of us think that S.U.V.s are much safer than sports cars. If you asked the young parents of America whether they would rather strap their infant child in the back seat of the TrailBlazer or the passenger seat of the Boxster, they would choose the TrailBlazer. We feel that way because in the TrailBlazer our chances of surviving a collision with a hypothetical tractor-trailer in the other lane are greater than they are in the Porsche. What we forget, though, is that in the TrailBlazer you're also much more likely to hit the tractor-trailer because you can't get out of the way in time. In the parlance of the automobile world, the TrailBlazer is better at "passive safety. " The Boxster is better when it comes to "active safety," which is every bit as important."

This also brings to mind the fact that your hypothetical 4000# car would be creamed by a typical tractor-trailer in a header so maybe the the additional agility of the smaller car allows you to avoid the header all together.

My point is that larger cars are not necessarily safer than smaller cars because of differences in engineering and agility. Head-on collisions make up a small percentage of all accidents (although very deadly when they do occur) and using that criteria alone is not enough when you make a choice of cars. For one to assume that the bigger car is safer is wrong.
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Old 06-22-2008, 02:54 PM   #43
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boilerman, clearly there is no single thing that makes a car more/less safe/unsafe. Maneuverability is a factor, safety engineering, the mass of what you hit, the stability, the type of drivers a car is purchased by ,etc, etc.

But the New Yorker excerpt just sounds like opinion to me - it's not unreasonable, but I don't see any facts there to back it up.

So, what about what I posted earlier? Why didn't these people avoid the accidents in their compact and sub compacts? And mini-vans certainly aren't known for nimble handling. The larger vehicles had fewer deaths - for whatever reason, it appears to be a fact (and I wish it weren't so! edit - that is, I wish small cars had fewer deaths, not that big cars had more! ).


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So, when I sort that way, the five safest vehicle types were:

minivan 31
minivan 37
large 40
mid-size 41
S.U.V. 46


And the five most dangerous vehicle types were:

pickup 111
compact 118
subcompact 146
subcompact 158
subcompact 161
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Old 06-22-2008, 04:08 PM   #44
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Originally Posted by boilerman
Do some research and you'll find the size of a car is a minor factor in overall safety.
I disagree strongly. The size of the car generally has a major, over-riding influence on the safety of a vehicle, especially in multi-car crashes. You characterized size as a "minor factor."

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My point is that larger cars are not necessarily safer than smaller cars because of differences in engineering and agility.
I agree with this statement. It is possible to find a 4000# car that would be less safe overall (passive or active safety) than a 2000# car. But, this would almost certainly be the exception to the rule.

All that said: I drive around in an older, fairly light car with no air bags. I'll be really sorry if that S-Class Mercedes plows into me!
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Old 06-22-2008, 04:52 PM   #45
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What about those of us riding bicycles?
Am I a responsible, environmentally conscious good citizen, or insane? Or both?
A man I admired was killed riding a motorcycle, when a drunk driver passed unsafely the other way and they had a head-on collision. I call it murder.
But still I can't see the man ever choosing to drive a tank down the road every day. Our planet cannot support all of us doing that, so he would not have done that.
I'm just saying it's something to think about. The answer is different for each of us.
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Old 06-22-2008, 04:52 PM   #46
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At what point would you consider driving a car like the Fit? When gas hits $10/gallon....$20/gallon....when 80% of vehicles on the road are compact cars or smaller? 90%? Just what would it take? Or is that something you would never consider doing because you view it as too unsafe at any cost?
That's a good question. There's an economic approach to this based on marginal utility. If optimizing safety is the ultimate goal, what's the best way to utilize each dollar? If a person drives a brand new very safe 4000# car, but the expenses of the car payments and the gas mean that he can't afford to pay for a physical exam, a required colonoscopy, required heart medication, healthier but more expensive fresh food, etc, then he's probably making a poor choice overall. And, obviously safety is only one factor--we'd all be safer if we never drove cars and took the bus everywhere we could, which would not only be safer but cheaper--but at a tremendous loss in the ability to actually DO things. And, that's why we want to stay alive in the first place, right?

If safety-per-dollar were the only criteria, spending $300 for a helmet and a five-point restraint system would be a much more efficient investment than spending more money for a safer vehicle. But, people would point . . . .
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