Thursday, April 16, 2009

Crash Testing - Size Differential

With the recent push for automakers to make smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles a staple of their portfolio, and in fact phase out the larger vehicles they make, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has expressed a great deal of concern lately. Their concern is that as manufacturers the size and weight of vehicles continually decrease, the level of safety does as well.

In an effort to reinforce this concern and their support of President Obama's plan to limit the incentive for manufactures to build more fuel efficient vehicles by turning to making cars very small, the IIHS conducted some crash testing. Although the head on collisions they simulated between mid-size sedans and some of the smallest cars on the market are under fire by many manufacturers as an inaccurate representation of the majority of crash scenarios and the way in which NHTSA certifies crash-worthiness, the tests prove ONE thing:

Larger cars fair better in a crash.

I say ONE thing because "large" is almost always paired with a word we at LM consider a dirty word: "heavy". Sure, the physics of the matter do show that a larger, heavier car will survive a crash quite well, but a car can be large and light and still withstand a severe hit well. A vehicle doesn't always need to be heavy to be safe. With the right design, the right materials and good use of space (which equals time much needed to allow the vehicle to absorb a crash before the occupants do), a large and light vehicle can be very safe.

Here is the video showing the IIHS test of the Mercedes C Class hitting a Smart Fortwo head on. As you can see, if there is more space between the extents and interior components of a vehicle, there would be more time for the vehicle to absorb the blow before transferring the force to the occupants. The Smart does a 450 degree spin, with the steering wheel and Instrument Panel coming loose when hitting a Mercedes C Class.

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