Monday, May 19, 2008

All things being equal in safety, bigger and heavier is always better

Gas prices have certainly impacted our monthly budget as much as anyone but that doesn't mean I regret driving two large vehicles and I will tell you why.

Fuel efficiency is always a concern when choosing a vehicle but what a lot of critics don't understand is that it can't nor should it always be the number one concern, especially if safety is number one.

When you have three kids, their stuff, and often times another friend or two to haul around, a small wagon isn't going to make the cut...for space or for safety. A minivan can't pull my boat.

My strategy is to find the most fuel efficient option in the class of vehicles that will suit my needs for safety and utility. In fact, our old Suburban would have been just fine but one of the reasons we upgraded is that the new one is more efficient and employs a cylinder-deactivation technology that the old one did not.

Fuel prices are probably high to stay in America, but to a certain extent, so are large (at least relatively speaking) American cars. A friend of mine in the office a while back found a note on her Suburban from a cowardly passerby that said something to the effect "Thank you for driving this so that our son's can die in Iraq." My friend will tell you however that the reason she drives the Suburban is so that her three sons don't have to die in America.

Now that is a dramatization on my part no doubt, but it makes the point.

Size is still the best factor for safety and utility and I tire of ignorant commentary about how SUV's are ruining our roads, sending our sons abroad and should be banned.

On the other end of the automotive spectrum, we have the Smart car, examples of which have started to pop up around town of late. You have to look really close, sometimes the yellow ones blend in with road markings and red ones blend in with fire hydrants.

The Smart car people could not have timed their introduction of the 2008 fortwo if their goal is to offer an alternative to the scooter for the urban crowd. The fortwo employs all the latest safety technology...

The 1,800-pound car has a steel safety cage and four standard air bags, including two in front and two on the sides to protect the head and abdomen. It also has standard electronic stability control, which is designed to stop vehicles from swerving off the road.

...but is it's size a safety disadvantage?

The answer is a qualified "Yes."

Small car environmentalists and global warming enthusiasts (I'm being charitable there) will tout small car solutions while disparaging SUV-driving soccer mom's by plastering headlines like this one...

...but make sure you read the fine print. (emphasis mine)

Unlike most cars on the road, the pint-sized 2008 Smart fortwo evokes a simple question at first glance: “How safe is it?”

The 8-foot, 8-inch vehicle received the highest rating of good in front-end and side-impact testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, helping address some concerns that consumers may be more vulnerable in the tiny two-seater.The tests, released Wednesday, show how well vehicles stack up against others of similar size and weight.

The institute noted that the front-end test scores can’t be compared across weight classes, meaning a small car that earns a good rating isn’t considered safer than a large car that did not earn the highest rating.

Adrian Lund, the institute’s president, said a small car may be more practical in congested urban areas where serious, high-speed crashes are less likely. The institute conducted the crash test to help guide consumers who want a small car that can give them good protection.

“All things being equal in safety, bigger and heavier is always better. But among the smallest cars, the engineers of the Smart did their homework and designed a high level of safety into a very small package,”

Lund said.The institute’s frontal crash test simulates a 40 mile per hour crash with a similar vehicle.

So if you run into one of your Smart car brethren, you'll be fine. Hit a stationary object or a bus, maybe not so much.

Some perspective...

The fortwo is more than 3 feet shorter and nearly 700 pounds lighter than a Mini Cooper.

and some irony from Smart themselves...

“America has never seen a car this size before and their first question usually isn’t about (fuel) economy, it’s about safety,” said Dave Schembri, president of Smart USA. “And that’s why we think these results are so very important.”

So let's make a deal. You stop flipping off our wives as they drive their families and their stuff around town in our gas-guzzling, pavement-pounding Suburbans and we'll stop laughing at how stupid you look in your ugly enviroweenie fashion-statements.


Bike Bubba said...

So they more or less crashed a "Smart" into my "Schwinn," huh? Doesn't this violate "truth in advertising" laws?

night writer said...

"bigger and heavier is always better."

I used to say I was built for comfort, not for speed. Now I can say I'm built for safety, too!

I hate to think of the mess one of those Smartcars would make on my windshield at highway speeds. Oh, and if you should ever run into the cowardly anonymous note-leaver, it might be worth mentioning that you'd similarly like to thank all the many sons who fought and died to protect our right to make our own choices.