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The non-profit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has done crash testing to see how safe mini cars (also called micro cars) are, compared to midsize passenger cars. They have tested both frontal car-to-car crashes and frontal car-to barrier crashes, all at 40 mph.

They chose 2009 models made by Daimler, Toyota and Honda because these three companies have micro models with good front crashworthiness ratings (based on IIHS’s tests with deformable barriers). They also meet federal safety standards. Researchers rated results based on forces recorded on the dummy doing the driving, movement of the dummy at impact, and measured intrusion of the barrier or larger car into the seating area.

Predictable Results

Not surprisingly, the small cars did more poorly, being thrown into the air in some instances. Just as a standard passenger car is more damaged in an accident with a big rig than the truck is, so the mini cars were more damaged than the midsize cars. Size and weight determine this, and the laws of physics relating to distance and force.

  • A heavier vehicle does not reduce its speed as much as a lighter vehicle when it crashes into something. The lighter vehicle is suddenly slowed down, which raises the injury risk of anybody inside it.
  • A longer vehicle has more space between its front end and the seating compartment, which lowers the injury risk of anybody seated there. Mini cars have very little space.

Car accident statistics have confirmed these principles – in 2007, the death rate in mini cars involved in multiple-vehicle crashes was nearly twice the death rate in large cars.

False Claims of Greater Safety

  • Some proponents of mini cars cite the addition of features such as airbags, advanced seat belts and some electronic stability control as establishing the safety of mini cars. Certainly those features are valuable, but cars of all sizes have them also, so they are not giving any advantage to mini cars as regards occupant safety.
  • Some mini car proponents also claim that if all cars on our highways were mini cars, injury risk would be reduced. That idea is also demolished by the facts. It would make the injury risks equal for occupants in each car, but would not necessarily lower them, and would not help at all in car-to-barrier crashes. Nearly half the deaths in mini car crashes happen in single-vehicle crashes, so those numbers would not decline if all cars were tiny.
  • Another claim made in support of mini cars is that they easier to maneuver, which enables drivers to avoid crashes. However, insurance companies report that claim frequency for crash damage is higher with mini 4-door cars than it is for midsize cars.

Auto accidents, regardless of the make or style of car, are a leading cause of accidental deaths in the U.S. If you are looking for a new car with low gas consumption, you might want to consider the midsize sedans that have improved fuel efficiency, some of them better than mini cars.

If you have been injured in an auto or truck accident, please contact our car accident attorneys for a free consultation and information as to your legal rights and options.

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