Safest Small Cars

When making car buying decisions, we often make choices based more upon emotion, curb appeal, and traditional family buying habits rather than taking some time to research issues such as the cost of car insurance for a particular vehicle and most importantly, vehicle safety ratings. More than 30,000 people die in automobile accidents every year in the United States alone. That is a frightening statistic and makes it no surprise that generally speaking, the safer a car is in any given class, the lower the auto insurance liability cost will be. Less severe injuries in a crash translate to lower insurance company pay-outs which can mean lower premiums for the consumer.

There are two primary organizations that perform automotive safety testing; the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Both have easy-to-use Web sites, http://www.safercar.gov and http://www.iihs.org

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently released some important research results on small car safety. One tough test they use for determining this data is known as the “overlap test” which simulates the more common type of collision with another vehicle or a utility pole. In the test, 25 percent of a vehicle’s front end on the driver’s side strikes a 5-foot-tall barrier at 40 mph with a crash test dummy behind the wheel. In many vehicles, the impact at a 25 percent overlap misses the primary structures designed to manage crash energy. That increases the risk of severe damage to or collapse of the occupant compartment structure. The IIHS rates vehicles “good,” “acceptable,” “marginal” or “poor” based on performance in a moderate overlap front crash, small overlap crash, side impact and rollover test. Tests also evaluate seat/head restraints for protection against neck injuries in rear-end collisions.

The top five small cars evaluated by the IIHS for safety are:

1. 2013 Honda Civic (good)
2. 2013 Ford Focus (acceptable)
3. 2013 Dodge Dart (acceptable)
4. 2013 Hyundai Elantra (acceptable)
5. 2014 Toyota Scion tC (acceptable)

Three of the worst safety performers are:

1. 2014 Kia Forte (worst performer)
2. 2013 Chevrolet Sonic
3. 2013 VW Beetle

“The small cars with ‘marginal’ or ‘poor’ ratings had some of the same structural and restraint system issues as other models we’ve tested,” says IIHS Chief Research Officer David Zuby. “In the worst cases safety cages collapsed, driver airbags moved sideways with unstable steering columns and the dummy’s head hit the instrument panel. Side curtain airbags didn’t deploy or didn’t provide enough forward coverage to make a difference. All of this adds up to marginal or poor protection in a small overlap crash.”
Bottom line is this: Do your homework before going car shopping. Make sure you research the specific make, model and year of automobiles that you are considering. Very small, sometimes unnoticeable changes from year to year can make a big difference. For example, Toyota simply changed the airbag algorithm in one of its models to allow the side curtain airbags to deploy in a small overlap crash and brought its safety performance from marginal to acceptable. Research all the safety data, then ask your independent agent for hypothetical auto insurance quote on any vehicles you are considering. Always keep in mind, car insurance can help protect your wallet and good driving can help avoid an accident but only a well designed, safe car can help protect you and your passengers in a crash

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