Buying a larger vehicle could save your life - Food for thought
From the Globe and mail, by Mark Richardson
When it comes to driving safety, sometimes bigger really is better.
“These days, it’s more about well-designed crumple zones and impact protection, not just heavy steel,” I said.
Take the tiny Smart car, for example, which cossets its driver and passenger in a high-strength protective “Tridion” cage. A few years ago, Smart’s marketing department demonstrated its sturdiness in a TV ad that parked a three-tonne Ford Expedition SUV on top of a Smart car, which remained unbowed.
If a heavy truck crashes into a Smart car, the much lighter vehicle will probably go flying, but its shaken-up passengers will be protected in the same way a race-car driver is protected by the car’s roll cage.
Improved structural design and the increased strength of steel and other structural materials mean that sheer physical size is less important than it used to be. For proof, take a look at some crash-test videos of poorly designed, similar sized Chinese cars compared to our North American vehicles, and at crash-test videos of vintage cars crumpling into their modern equivalents.
However, the overall weight of the vehicle does make a difference. “A bigger, heavier vehicle provides better crash protection than a smaller, lighter one, assuming no other differences,” states the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). “The bigger vehicle will push the lighter one backward during the impact. That puts less force on the people inside the heavier vehicle and more on the people in the lighter vehicle.”
For this reason, the IIHS says that teenagers, new to driving, are often safer in an older and larger used vehicle than in a newer, smaller vehicle that costs the same. They proved it by crashing a 2016 Kia Sorento into a smaller 2018 Kia Forte, and a 2015 Toyota Avalon into a 2018 Toyota Yaris. All have excellent safety ratings, but the crash-test dummies in the heavier cars fared better than those in the lighter vehicles.
“Bigger vehicles provide greater protection,” said Jessica Cicchino, the IIHS vice-president of research. “If you’re riding in one of the smallest vehicles on the road, you’ll be at a disadvantage in a crash with almost any other vehicle around you.”
Electric cars may help to even out the stakes as their heavy batteries account for much of the weight of the vehicle. In the near future, a smaller electric car with a large battery may be much closer in weight to a large car or truck with a similar battery.
It’s better than it used to be, though. Older SUVs and pickup trucks had higher bumpers that would make them drive up and over smaller cars during a collision, but in the past decade, designers have better aligned the energy-absorbing areas of trucks and cars to make them more compatible in a collision. From 2009 to 2012, the IIHS says car occupants were 59-per-cent more likely to die in a collision with an SUV than with another car, but by 2013 to 2016, that was reduced to 28-per-cent more likely.
Pickup trucks, however, are more dangerous to others during a collision. In the 2013 to 2016 period, a crash between a pickup and a car was more than twice as likely to kill the car driver than a crash between two cars.