Back in the 1950s-1970s, big cars were the way to go. They were designed to be luxuriously roomy, especially if you had a large family on the move. They were also considered the safest to drive. Many thought this, not only taking into account the size, but also due to the fact that vehicles back then were manufactured with a lot more steel than today. The car’s sturdiness made many believe they were driving “tanks.” Well, let’s flashforward to today. Over the last 4 decades, many amazing technical advances have happened in the automotive industry, including safety. Now, with these advancements, it really closes the gap between sizes. However, that question in the back of our minds still gets asked, are bigger vehicles safer than smaller ones? Let’s find out.
In today’s car world, newer cars are the safest… period. No matter the size. Modern cars have more safety features that minimize injury and risk of death. Here are a lot of the features that come standard with today’s models:
- Side, rear, side-curtain, and front airbags are available in even the most economical new car.
- Electronic stability control, which is a feature that stabilizes your car in the event it spins out of control and minimizes rollovers, is no longer only available in luxury cars; it is available in all vehicles since 2012.
- Back up sensors and backup cameras help to prevent rear-end collisions. This feature will be available to all new cars in late spring of 2018.
- Blind spot warning is a feature that uses a camera or sensor to let the driver know if there is a vehicle in the lane they want to change into.
Alright, let’s now take a closer look at the issue of size comparison. With bigger cars, they are heavier and therefore can absorb the force of an impact more efficiently than a smaller car. Higher weight minimizes damage (and thus risk). The larger hoods in bigger vehicles have the advantage in head-on collisions because it has a has a more significant crumple zone. The crumple zone, also known as the crush zone, is the area in front of the vehicle that absorbs most of the impact in a front-end accident.
As the weight of the car increases, so does its momentum. That means the car requires more time to slow down. In a collision between a big and a small vehicle, the energy of the bigger car will be transferred to the smaller car, causing it more damage and to send it flying. Smaller cars always have a much higher risk of damage and personal injury when entering into a collision with a larger car.
Now, let’s look at the factor of vehicle height. Some larger vehicles may be more at risk for rollover accidents, because they have a higher center of gravity. Smaller cars, in general, have a lower center of gravity, which keeps them from rolling over in a collision. However, cars that are lower to the ground have a higher risk of sliding underneath another vehicle.
So far, we’ve seen the pros and cons for both large and small vehicles in regard to safety. And truly, you the consumer are going to make the decision on what’s best for you, based on your personal needs and comfort level. Are you looking to keep small children safe, or are you looking for a car for a new teenage driver? Do you want a gas guzzler or something more environmentally friendly? Best practice before buying a new car is doing a little online research.
Look at model reviews and ratings, crash tests, safety features (such as back-up cameras, auto-brake sensors, etc.) and available add-ons, electronic stability control, and most importantly, recall history of the model you may be purchasing.
If at all possible, purchase a car that earns the IIHS Top Safety Pick and at least 4 out of 5 stars from NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).
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