Video: Small cars popular, but are they safe?

msnbc.com
updated 12/20/2006 1:01:05 PM ET 2006-12-20T18:01:05

A summer of high gas prices has brought fuel-saving, economy-sized cars back in fashion, but most fail to provide the same safety protection that buyers find in bigger vehicles according to crash test results released by the insurance industry Tuesday. And MSNBC.com’s readers had plenty to say on the matter.

A message board for Tuesday’s story on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s report , which gives low ratings to four popular small vehicles in side-impact protection tests, provoked a variety of comments from readers, from disgust with large, gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks to concern about the safety of smaller vehicles.

The vehicles were tested by the institute for the first time because high gasoline prices have made them more popular. But no matter what the price of gas, reader “k23434” weighed in on MSNBC.com’s automotive message board to say he has “no desire to ride in a small car.”

“I was in a motor vehicle accident four years ago in an older Ford Mustang 1980s vintage and I sustained some rather serious injuries,” said k23434. “Since then, I drive either a GMC Jimmy or Chevy Impala.”

Small cars may do better on gas, but in collisions the larger vehicle fares better, which is just a matter of physics k23434 said.

“So I may pay more for gas, [but] at least my chances of survival are better than someone in a sub-compact, or a compact car. There are always plenty of cars, but only one of me.”

A message from “alternative energy-alternative thinking” took a different view:

“We have owned only Honda Civics for many years now (currently driving a hybrid) and will never buy anything but that size of vehicle,” the reader wrote.

“It is irresponsible for anyone who cares at all about future generations to consider driving anything but the smallest and most fuel-efficient vehicle they can afford to buy. I wish our self-centered generation would concern themselves more about what their daily habits are doing to the environment that we are leaving behind for our children.”

Reader “journal” said that, while some large pickups for work, “when I see these punks riding around in HUGE Escalades and Hummers and Dodge Rams for no reason other than to look ‘cool,’ that just makes me upset.”

“They are wasting the rest of the world’s resources, hogging two parking spaces and wasting money. There is no need to drive a monstrous vehicle if you have zero use for it, other than driving around trying to prove something about yourself,” the reader said.
“I lived in Palm Beach for four years and was always disgusted at these filthy rich people rolling around in huge cars that looked ridiculously out of place. Heck, if you're that rich to waste money on a giant gas guzzler, but a stinking Ferrari instead! You’d look a whole lot cooler and you’d save some more glaciers from melting into history.”

Some readers, like “Rod from Missouri” defended their right to drive a large SUV:

“I own a 2002 Lincoln Navigator and it does get poor mileage compared to the smaller cars, but when I go on long trips I find that I want the comfort of a larger vehicle. I am willing to pay the price for gas because I like the comfort of knowing that if I should ever get into an accident I will be better protected. I want to be comfortable on my trips and I’m willing to pay for that.”

Commuting in Southern California is why “I.M.O.” drives a large SUV:

“I commute on freeways that are spilling over with commercial vehicles weighing tons and tons,” the reader said. “I am an extremely cautious and courteous driver. I care about the other people on the road and I am ridiculously aware of motorcyclists because my father is one. However, I drive around feeling like it’s only a matter of time until I get squashed by an 18-wheeler. There are so many of them. So, if I can’t quit my job to avoid driving among them, then at least I feel a little safer being in a large car rather than a tiny little one.”

Small car drivers defended their choice of car too, including “brownonthelake,” who said driving a 2005 Chevy Aveo at least 500 miles a week saves on gasoline.

“I chose this car because of the high gas mileage and environment friendly engine design. I have never been in a serious accident and I am a defensive driver (I also have never had a ticket). The safety issue rests with the driver of the car. We need to think about other drivers on the road to improve safety and think about the environment for the future.”

PinkAgGal drives a Honda Fit:

“When I bought it, I was fully aware of its size and safety features. I feel very, very safe in my Fit and love the benefits I get from driving it — great gas mileage, maneuverability, ease of parking, lots of space, etc. Airbags come standard and it has side-impact beams; I feel just a safe in my Fit as I did in the boat of a Nissan Maxima I drove before it. If people want to spend the money on large SUVs and trucks they don’t need, let them. They will be the ones suffering when gas is $5 a gallon (or more) not the individuals who thought about more than just size when they purchased their vehicle.”

However, some readers expressed concern about the safety of smaller cars, including “bluewhitelake,” a 16-year-old firefighter “with much training and experience in motor vehicle extrication operations.”

“There are many models I would not wish to see any person I care about driving,” the reader wrote. “While no car maker has the market cornered on safety, models by Kia, Hyundai, Scion as well as American models (Neon, GEO models) are noticeably inferior construction-wise during rescue operations and present extra challenges to firefighters trying to free trapped persons.”

Bigger cars can be just as dangerous wrote “MBR B EMT.”

“Yes, a bigger car has more mass, but if it is poorly designed to absorb crash energy (like most big cars from the Big Three), the bigger car you think will save your life is going to hurt you. Being in EMS I can tell you that bigger cars many times do not help if they are older or rated poorly for crash safety.”

All safety “options” should come standard on any small-sized vehicle said reader “forwardsikology.”

“If I paid anywhere around $15,000 and up, especially for a compact hybrid vehicle, I would want to be assured that safety issues are covered and that I wouldn’t have to pay an extra $700 to $1,000 on something that would compromise the health of myself or any of my passengers.”

Another good way to avoid accidents, wrote “Andy Californian,” is to “put down the cell phone, makeup, burger or whatever else you are trying to multitask, then you can avoid the crash that big-vehicle paranoids are so scared of. Actually driving instead of selfishly using the road as an office/salon/diner would make everybody’s life safer, including those of bicyclists and pedestrians (who are more worthy of respect, because they aren’t using fuel, or polluting).”

Reader “emmygreen77” offers three solutions to road safety. First, “it needs to be much more difficult to get your driver’s license — then more intelligent and aware persons will be operating vehicles.” Second, “there needs to be more public transportation and less people commuting long distances to avoid potential dangers such as falling asleep at the wheel, and of course fewer cars mean less congested, safer roads.” Third, “large vehicles should not be allowed. They should be illegal.”

But perhaps the most novel suggestion for road safety came from reader “Double Tap,” who suggested we ban all vehicles, since all vehicles are involved in accidents, and revert to using horses.

“Yes, they pollute, but their pollution is biodegradable. Plus, if we outfit our horses with airbags we should be pretty safe. And think of all the family farms we can rescue from extinction as we ramp up production of oats! But we’d probably have people on this message board harping on those who own Clydesdales: ‘You don’t need a horse that big — you are being selfish and destroying the world!’”

Neigh-sayers will no doubt agree.

Note: Some reader comments edited for length and clarity.

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