Death On Wheels: The Cars That Put Other Drivers at Risk


For years, SUVs were considered dangerous to their drivers because of the rollover risk. Fortunately, electronic stability control, a standard safety feature on modern SUVs, has made the number of rollovers go down significantly. Unfortunately for people who don’t drive SUVs, that means their risk of injury — and even death — in a collision is going up.

It’s important to note, before we go any further, that across all models of cars, the risk of injury or death by any sort of accident has been sinking by double digits over the last 10 years. New advances in materials, safety systems, and restraints mean accidents that might have been fatal in 2002 are mostly auto insurance headaches in 2012. Even in the riskiest vehicles for accidents — namely small, light cars — the numbers boil down to 72 deaths per million vehicles, or .000072%. Driving a car is relatively dangerous…but that’s relative to our overall safe existence.

That said, accidents between smaller cars and bigger ones are still a pretty big problem in the world of car accidents, and one car manufacturers and auto insurance companies are struggling to solve.

When Big Car Meets Little Car
It’s really all a matter of physics, which just aren’t in the little car’s favor, no matter how you slice it. If, say, a 2012 GMC Sierra, which weighs more than three tons, runs into, or gets run into, by a Toyota Prius, which weighs one and a half tons, the “energy transfer” is decidedly in the Sierra’s favor. If the Prius hits the Sierra, the impact will be less than the Sierra hitting the Prius, and the Sierra will be more likely to absorb the energy.

It raises the question of what we can do. Obviously, most of us have no desire to get in a car accident, and certainly not to kill anybody. And car makers are working on new ideas every day to reduce the damage: for example, as crumple zone technology advances, it ensures that more of the energy is absorbed by areas of the car, not the passengers. But beyond relying on technology, what else can we do?

Four Ways to Protect the Little Guy

  1. Respect each other on the road. Let’s start with the most basic way we can, and something we should be doing anyway: driving safely. C’mon, admit it: sometimes you don’t use your turn signal, or you speed, or somebody gets you angry and you cut them off. Well, like it or not, that’s how people crash; somebody’s thoughtless action triggers an unintended problem that gets nasty, quick. So, take a deep breath and drive mindfully of others.
  2. If you’re in a large car, keep your eye out. This is especially true on side streets and in cities. Move carefully with a full awareness of other drivers, and be conscientious of your turn signal. The bigger the car, the more careful you’ll need to be.
  3. If you’re in a smaller car, don’t speed. The temptation to go zipping around, or try and get through a yellow light, is great in a zippy little car, but that’s how you get hit. Even if a giant SUV is in your way, be patient.
  4. Get a more modern car. Cars manufactured before 2002 are a higher safety risk, so whether you want a family-hauling vehicle or a tiny gas-sipper, look for a later model vehicle, and be sure to ask about available safety features.

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