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Econobox of Doom
February 15, 2012 5:34 AM   Subscribe

Help me persuade a concerned relative that a minicar is not a death trap.

The short version: I want to trade in my older mini-SUV for a new minicar. A concerned relative worries this spells Certain Doom for me and for my children. Help me persuade them otherwise (or prove to me I'm wrong, I suppose!)

Extended version: I currently drive a 2003 Saturn Vue. It's a ticking time bomb; that model year for CVTs is notoriously bad. Class action lawsuit bad. We expect the transmission to go... any time now, really.

Now that we're into booster seats and not car seats, and we no longer need to carry a stroller around, I want to move to a smaller car -- much smaller. I have a hard preference for little, zippy cars; I used to have a manual '81 VW Rabbit that I loved to pieces. I've about narrowed down to the Honda Fit and the Chevy Sonic as the best combination of safe, small, cheap, fun to drive, and USB-capable. (A hard call, because we get a GM family discount on the Sonic, but the Fit is slightly more fun to drive. But I digress.) My plan is to buy a good car and then run it into the ground.

A family member is worried that the Fit or something similar would kill us all if, for example, someone blew a light and hit us, something that has happened to other people in my family three times in the last three years.

This car would be used primarily for small jaunts around town, to school, the grocery store, etc. We have a Honda Accord we've been using for slightly longer highway trips to the mall and so on. My 2003 Vue has under 50K miles on it.

My kids are 9 and 5, both on the small side for their age. They're both still in booster seats, because we take the safety seriously in our house.

So: What proof, particularly statistical evidence and comparative research, can I give to my relative showing that buying a Fit is not a terrible decision? I have a hunch that a 2012 minicar would be safer than my older Vue, which doesn't even have side-curtain airbags and is made of plastic. Help me to get a worrier to not worry quite so much. (Or prove to me I'm making a bad choice, if I am.)

I've seen prior questions or comments pertinent to the subject here, here, here.
posted by Andrhia to Travel & Transportation (41 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
2003 Saturn Vue safety

2010 Honda Fit safety

Unfortunately what you'll see on those pages is that the NHTSA has the Vue rated as being as good as or better than the Fit in every way except rollover, while the IIHS has the Fit being better in rear crashes and side impacts. So, even experts with a lot of math and scientific method behind them disagree. The differences lie, I would guess, in the nature of the tests they apply. It's a lot easier to engineer a small car to save its occupants when crashing into a guardrail or telephone pole than it is to have it survive a head-on crash with a much larger vehicle. Your relative probably isn't entirely wrong; the Fit probably is more vulnerable in some situations. But you can't predict what sort of accident is most likely, so this is not a great way to approach rational decisions.
posted by jon1270 at 5:50 AM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, here are the safety specs for the Fit. Seems pretty good to me.

When you said 'minicar' I expected a Mini Cooper or a tiny little sports car!
posted by cooker girl at 5:51 AM on February 15, 2012


Have you already checked safety reviews? Here's one for the Honda Fit that came up in a quick web search. Looks like it's highly-rated. (On preview, others beat me to it :) )

The Fit is a 5-door hatchback and is considered a "minicar" in the US, but in Europe there are 3-door hatchback Twingos, and they're pretty safe. That's not even the smallest car around. Are they open to the long experience of Europeans with small cars? A Fit would be bigger than a lot of cars driven by families here. Most go with something along the lines of a 4-door Citroen or Peugeot, which are still quite small.

With sidebags, yes, it would definitely be safer than without. I was in a Volvo 240 rammed into by a 4x4 running a red light in the early 1990s, and though we came out safe, we all banged our heads against the windows.

Accidents are unpredictable; like jon1270 says, it's hard to use it as a decision-making tool. All it takes is someone in a bigger, heftier tank, which is entirely out of your control.
posted by fraula at 5:53 AM on February 15, 2012


Since you intend to keep the cars forever, make sure you test drive them with four adults. In a few years, your kids will be much larger than they are now...

I just bought a Hyundai Accent, which is about that size. It does not feel unsafe. It also has side impact airbags, which may not be standard on all cars. (Yet?)

I'm trying to remember if Mythbusters did this myth or not. It seems like a smaller car will have more of a tendency to bounce off of things, where a larger vehicle's mass will just keep crushing you. But I also think that the differences are at the margins. For the vast majority of accidents, what will be will be, no matter what modern vehicle you are in.
posted by gjc at 6:01 AM on February 15, 2012


A smaller car is not going to be safer than a larger car in a head-on accident. There is a difference in mass between the two; the larger car has more mass protecting its occupants, and more places in which to put safety devices, than a smaller car.

What benefit do you want by buying a smaller car?

You say that you're big on safety yet you also want a small car. To some extent, those are incongruent goals.

Also: you presently have small children, but what are you going to do when they are adolescents? Small kids in the back of a small car are no problem, but are you really going to force your kids to fold themselves into a cramped back seat? Good luck getting ornery teenagers to go along with that.
posted by dfriedman at 6:07 AM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can't speak to the safety aspect specifically, but in response to the comments about when the kids get bigger: my sister has a Fit and we've comfortably fit the two of us plus our respective dudes in it at the same time, and none of us are small people either in height or in weight.
posted by brilliantine at 6:16 AM on February 15, 2012


I looked at a Honda Fit last weekend. I'm 6'3" and I fit in the backseat just fine, other than needing an extra half inch of headroom. Unless you expect the kids to play in the NBA they'll be fine.
posted by postel's law at 6:16 AM on February 15, 2012


Oh, and someone correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't safety ratings by class? Meaning you can't use them to compare different classes?
posted by postel's law at 6:18 AM on February 15, 2012


Just one quick note -- I know perfectly well that a small car is not going to be as safe as a massive one; but there's a difference between "not as safe as" and "not at all safe." My question comes down to how much of a difference there is in this particular case.
posted by Andrhia at 6:20 AM on February 15, 2012


This might be going a bit too far for your taste, but what I would do in this situation, is show my concerned relative some comparative crash test videos for the cars you're interested in getting vs. the one you have now.

These are the side impact tests, which seem to fit the situation your relative is concerned about the most, and coincidentally show the huge advantage the Fit has in side impact tests.

These are from the IIHS:
Saturn VUE 2002-2007 side impact (this one has commentary)
Honda Fit 2009-2012+ side impact

Car size doesn't correlate directly with safety. There are poorly designed small cars, and poorly designed large cars. Bad cars are unsafe, not small ones.
posted by helicomatic at 6:21 AM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


A large car is safer than a small car. But something like a Honda Fit is safe enough for your purposes.

What proof, particularly statistical evidence and comparative research, can I give to my relative showing that buying a Fit is not a terrible decision?

The sort of thing you want to know is how much more likely are you to die in an accident in a Honda Fit vs. a Vue. Under most circumstances, you're not going to get into an accident. In circumstances where you do get into an accident, it would not be fatal in any kind of car. For some tiny subset of accidents (perhaps a head on collision with a large SUV), a large car or SUV might have a larger chance of keeping you alive than a small car (and the Fit is really not a subcompact. It's a good-sized car, about what low-cost smaller family cars were like in the 80s and 90s).

My understanding of these conversations is that facts and statistics are not really what someone talking with you is interested in, and I doubt statistics will sway them or that they want to hear statistics. Maybe they just want to hear an acknowledgement of their concern, or something?
posted by deanc at 6:28 AM on February 15, 2012


The Honda Fit seems to be a very safe, convenient, and fun car. I considered buying one, but I prefer coupes.

As you've already alluded to, you're not buying a car for the express purpose of having some kind of jousting match with a Hummer. Yes, all else being equal, more mass is "safer" than less mass. But smaller cars have an advantage in maneuverability and quick response that can help avoid an accident in the first place.

The Fit is also plenty big for teens or adults in the back seat. It's a 4-door, with plenty of rear seat room, so there's no convincing a teenager to "fold" himself in to the back. They just get in and ride. I've had 2-door cars with much less rear room, and my teen daughter and her friends didn't need any convincing to get into the car when they wanted a ride somewhere. The rear-seat room is a non-issue in this case.

None of us can predict every eventuality or possible crash scenario. If that were the sole criteria of car ownership, we would all want a Hummer-sized tank of a vehicle with exterior airbags to keep the vehicle afloat in case you drove into a lake. But as in all of life, we have differing needs, and have to meet those needs with trade-offs related to money, convenience, practicality, and taste.

Buy the Fit, and be happy with it. Ignore any "death trap" comments. They come from ignorance.
posted by The Deej at 6:32 AM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Anecdata: I have a 2008 Honda Fit Sport. In December 2009, I hit black ice at 25-27 MPH and slid off the road into a ravine, where tall reeds eventually stopped the car in its tracks.

There were a lot of witnesses to the accident. Most frequent comment: "I can't believe the car didn't roll." I had some back and neck stiffness for a couple of weeks but otherwise, no injuries. The car took the brunt of the accident but I am still driving it today.

If you buy a Fit and have to drive in winter weather, I strongly suggest that you replace the stock tires with good all-season tires immediately if the stock tires are Dunlops, or get snow tires. The stock Dunlops held up for one winter but they were absolutely atrocious the following year - worst I've ever experienced. It's possible that I wouldn't have had the accident at all had I gotten better tires for winter conditions. I have Nokian tires now and am pretty happy with them.

Other than that, I would recommend the Fit to just about anyone. I was able to get a rocking chair AND a 1940's sewing machine cabinet into the hatchback without any problems. It doesn't beat my 1999 Civic EX, but then again, nothing much would in that price range.
posted by Currer Belfry at 6:35 AM on February 15, 2012


..and I doubt statistics will sway them or that they want to hear statistics.


That's why you need to show the video of a Smart car driving into a concrete barrier at 70mph. Obviously it's a bit of a contrived example, but it's still rather thought provoking. Spoiler: You could probably walk away from that accident.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 6:43 AM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I know perfectly well that a small car is not going to be as safe as a massive one

Maybe all else equal, but all else isn't equal. A '58 Eldorado weighs about twice what a Fit does, but I assure you in a crash between the two you'd rather be in the Fit.

The numbers already posted show that the Fit is about as safe as a Vue when it crashes, with some tradeoffs. Plus new Fits have traction control and stability control which ought to help keep the car out of some crashes the Vue would get into. Plus they're less likely to leave you stranded in [local stereotypical bad neighborhood] or out in the frozen countryside in winter.

(If you want a little fun and don't mind just a tetch bigger, did you drive a Mazda 3 with a stick?)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:51 AM on February 15, 2012


Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug Spoiler: You could probably walk away from that accident.

You didn't actually watch that whole video, did you? The takeaway at the end of it is that the passengers would've been dead due to rapid deceleration despite the fact that the cabin wasn't terribly compromised.
posted by jon1270 at 6:57 AM on February 15, 2012


jon1270: Ah, my mistake. That's what I get for looking it up on a computer without sound.

Presumably, though, rapid deceleration will happen in any car hitting a solid object at high speeds. The takeaway here is really that a small car will not be utterly destroyed in an accident, and may actually be pretty safe if it is engineered well.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 7:08 AM on February 15, 2012


Maybe just practice saying "It's a risk I'm willing to take."
posted by mskyle at 7:10 AM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


This car would be used primarily for small jaunts around town, to school, the grocery store, etc. We have a Honda Accord we've been using for slightly longer highway trips to the mall and so on. My 2003 Vue has under 50K miles on it.

Most fatal accidents happen on two lane roadways at speed. Survival in that case is at best a crapshoot anyway - although larger cars to tend to fare better - distance from emergency services also matters a great deal. So it's more complicated than just "big car good small car bad".

For the sort of driving your planning on doing, I wouldn't expect your car to be less safe than a larger one.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:48 AM on February 15, 2012


Presumably, though, rapid deceleration will happen in any car hitting a solid object at high speeds.
This is true - but a longer car with larger crumple zones would slow the deceleration in such an impact significantly, potentially making it much more survivable.
posted by kickingtheground at 8:14 AM on February 15, 2012


Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug: Presumably, though, rapid deceleration will happen in any car hitting a solid object at high speeds.

The Smart Car is designed to be a sturdy steel box, which is why it weighs so much for a car of its size. It has a very small crumple zone in the front, but it's actually designed to derive most of its energy absorption from the other car's crumple zones. Which is why it fails so terribly if you hit a solid barrier.

With regard to the OP's question: The Honda Fit is a pretty safe car. The additional safety features and decreased likelihood of rollover mean that it's probably safer than your VUE. The IIHS info for the 2012 model year is here, and it's one of their top safety picks. No NHTSA tests for the 2011 or 2012 years yet. Looks like they beefed up the A-pillars or something to account for the increase in roof strength.
posted by JauntyFedora at 8:48 AM on February 15, 2012


The Cruze also has identical IIHS ratings to the Fit, and has the following NHTSA ratings:
Overall: 5 star
Frontal: 5 star
Side: 5 star
Rollover: 4 star

The 2012 Fit's NHTSA rating is:
Overall: 4 star
Frontal: 4 star
Side: 4 star
Rollover: 4 star
posted by JauntyFedora at 8:55 AM on February 15, 2012


Tell them "Thank you for your concerns", then go get whatever car you like.

And I say this as someone who once received a fire extinguisher from my mother for Christmas --- she was convinced my '69 Beetle was a fire about to happen --- as well as having been on the receiving end of a 'that car's transmission is a death trap!' lecture about a later vehicle from a younger sibling, who was extremely disappointed to find they were wrong, to the extant that Consumer Reports called the car a Top Rated Safety Pick because of the transmission. You can't change your relative's mind, sorry.
posted by easily confused at 9:09 AM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Most people don't consider car 'safety' anywhere near rationally. They fixate on a particularly uncommon accident scenario -- a high-speed frontend collision, or a high-speed T-bone at a stoplight, because these happen to be especially fatal -- ignoring that these accidents are relatively rare, statistically.

The average driver has 3-4 accidents in their lifetime; it works out to be about one every 17 years. The most common type of MVA is a rear-end collision; representing fully 25% or so of the 100,000 accidents per year in the US. Side impacts and high-speed frontends are much more rare. (Falling asleep at the wheel and collisions resulting from driving drunk are both more common.)

I'm not sure that it makes a lot of sense to fixate so much on a relatively uncommon scenario, even if it does happen to be fatal. It's a plane-crash fallacy. It's entirely possible that your money is better spent getting a car with better whiplash arrestors, which will protect you from a debilitating back injury in a very common rear-end hit, than buying some armored behemoth designed to give you a tiny additional edge in a T-bone, where you might end up dead regardless (if the other vehicle is a semitrailer and going 50MPH, even if you're driving a Hummer you're probably in trouble). But of course most people aren't able to look at it that way.

Since your relative isn't arguing from a rational position, I'm not sure that assaulting them with statistics is going to be a productive thing to do. At some point you're just going to have to thank them for their opinions, do what you're going to do, and move on with your life.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:20 AM on February 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


This may be useful. Safety figures are usually by class. These are just raw death rates per vehicle.

Here are actual death rates of the cars you mention - or similar that I could find. This is from a 2011 report - no Saturn Vue or Sonic and things may have changed a bit in new models.

From Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 2011 Status Report, Volume 46, Number 5 Volume 46, Number 5 � June 9, 2011

*Rates are driver deaths per million registered vehicle years. A registered vehicle year is 1 vehicle registered for 1 year or 2 vehicles for 6 months each. (whatever the heck that means)

Honda Fit
2007-08
Owners: 203,929
Overall Deaths: 63
Driver Death Rate in Multiple Vehicle Crashes: 26
Driver Death Rate in Single Vehicle Crashes:37
Driver Death Rate in Single Vehicle Roll-Overs: 26

Honda Accord
2008
Owners:326,845
Overall Deaths: 19
Driver Death Rate in Multiple Vehicle Crashes:11
Driver Death Rate in Single Vehicle Crashes:8
Driver Death Rate in Single Vehicle Roll-Overs:4

Chevrolet Aveo THIRD on the list of most deadly.
2007-08
Owners: 114,817
Overall Deaths: 119
Driver Death Rate in Multiple Vehicle Crashes: 60
Driver Death Rate in Single Vehicle Crashes: 60
Driver Death Rate in Single Vehicle Roll-Overs: 33

Toyota Yaris
2007-08
Owners: 240,623
Overall Deaths: 65
Driver Death Rate in Multiple Vehicle Crashes: 7
Driver Death Rate in Single Vehicle Crashes: 18
Driver Death Rate in Single Vehicle Roll-Overs: 7

For Comparison:
Audi A6 4-door 4WD
2005-08
Owners: 130,298
Overall Deaths: 0
Driver Death Rate in Multiple Vehicle Crashes:0
Driver Death Rate in Single Vehicle Crashes: 0
Driver Death Rate in Single Vehicle Roll-Overs: 0

I'd give the report a good look. You can learn alot about relative car safety. My advice: keep those little ones safe.
posted by ecorrocio at 9:26 AM on February 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


No car can protect you from someone running a red light. The Fit has more airbags than the Vue, plus 10 more years of engineering, which are both key. As for big cars vs. small cars in crashes, watch this.
posted by rhizome at 9:26 AM on February 15, 2012


Your candidates are subcompacts, not "mini cars."

I have a 2011 Ford Fiesta, per the USNWR rankings was the safest subcompact. It's also an absolutely great little car.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:31 AM on February 15, 2012


Fundamentally, size does help, and the subcompact/mini cars are just that. However, I'd take a 2012 Honda Fit over a 2003 Saturn Vue any day of the week. Witness the data. Scale is Good Acceptable Marginal Poor.

Honda Fit, 2012 -- Good ratings almost everywhere, with only two acceptable ratings, Pelvis/Leg damage and Structure/Saftey cage, both in side impact. Highly rated.

Saturn Vue, 2002-2007 Frontal impact, Good overall, with Head/Neck Acceptable. Side impact? Very bad for the driver, not good for the rear passengers, and the driver's head hit the impactor.

SUVs, as a class, are better than subcompacts in crashes, but they're much more likely to roll, the biggest killer in single car accidents. If the argument is purely safety, then tell your relatives that you'll be at the Volvo Dealer.

So, tell them you *are* buying the Fit for the children.

(Aside, the Volvo C30 would be a really really nice fit, though it's bigger. It may be the ultimate stealth Hot Hatchback**, but it is also a good $10,000 more. You'd probably love it. The question is would the SO kill you, or worse, love it too and never let you drive it.)

The Fit is a lovely small car, gets good mileage, and is big for its class, but it is small. As a second car, it'll be fine until the kids grow, but I'd be worried about the usefulness of the back seat. However, if you intend to use this as your runabout, and the kids will always be in the Accord, then, really, I'd get a Mazda MX-5. :-) But if that isn't going to fly, I'd go with the Fit.

Well, actually, I'd go with the Civic, because I am tall and have very long femurs, which makes truly small cars hard to deal with, but I was fine in my 2005 Civic, and it's one of the world's great urban cars. The current ones, however, are rather big.

(On preview)

ethnomethodologist -- I know about 4 people with Ford Fiestas, and they all love them. Not my kind of car, but there's certainly *something* going for them, and if you're looking at a Fit, looking at a Fiesta is probably wise.

** Default engine 227HP, 236ft-lbs. torque. With Polestar Upgrade, 250HP, 277ft-lbs torque. WHEE!
posted by eriko at 9:55 AM on February 15, 2012


Here's an article that might be helpful. It's by Malcolm Gladwell and focuses on active safety (the ability to avoid accidents) vs passive safety.

I've been looking for a new car as well and have similar criteria to yours. However, I ultimately decided against the Fit due to the stopping distance, which seemed pretty long for such a small car (at 134 feet, it's the almost the same as the much larger Subaru Outback). I ended up ordering a Subaru Impreza wagon. It costs a bit more than the Fit and is slightly larger. (My husband has driven an older Subaru Impreza wagon for years. I have a 1996 Honda Civic hatch at the moment.)
posted by mingshan at 9:57 AM on February 15, 2012


Just one quick note -- I know perfectly well that a small car is not going to be as safe as a massive one; but there's a difference between "not as safe as" and "not at all safe." My question comes down to how much of a difference there is in this particular case.

The IIHS investigated exactly this question. I've talked about their research in a couple of other threads, and I'll quote one of my answers here:

The video linked at the top right of this page from the IIHS gives a pretty sobering demonstration of the benefits of size in two-car crashes. The IIHS took minicars that got the best frontal impact rating of good (the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris and Smart car) and crashed them against their manufacturers’ mid-sized twin – Accord, Camry, C-Class. By changing the crash from moving car into concrete block to moving car into moving car, the IIHS wanted to show the effect of size on safety. Every single one of the minicars went from Good to Poor. Not Acceptable to Marginal, but all the way from the top of the safety results to the bottom. This is why the IIHS emphasizes that you can’t compare front-crash ratings between different classes. (Side impacts, on the other hand, all simulate an SUV barrelling into the side of your car, so they can be compared.) Keep this in mind when shopping for a new car.

So, back to your choice. You mention the Fit and the Sonic. The Sonic did better than the Fit in crash testing, especially in the side pole impact test. If I were shopping for a subcompact, it's what I'd get. But I would recommend that instead of a Sonic, you consider a Cruze. It's also distinguished itself in crash testing. But it's larger, without being too large for parking in the city. It's also better value - you can get the turbo engine in the Cruze without having to option the car all the way to the top; the 1LT trim is great value.

I wouldn't get the new Civic, as it's been universally panned in reviews; they're refreshing it at the end of the year, about 18 months ahead of the usual schedule, to deal with the criticisms. Nor would I go with the Elantra, even though it's had good reviews, because it didn't do as well as the Cruze in crash testing.
posted by Dasein at 10:14 AM on February 15, 2012


Not that this line of thinking will necessarily sway your concerned relatives, but you could try a Kantian ethical line of reasoning on them: what kind of car would they hope that the person who they imagine crashing into you would have chosen to buy? They'll be hoping that the car that hits you is as small as possible, right? Because the bigger the car that hits you, the worse the damage done to your car, and the higher the likelihood that you and your passengers will be injured.

So, surely you should buy a small car rather than a big car on the moral reasoning that it is better for everybody if everybody chooses the smallest car capable of meeting their needs, because those cars will do the least harm in the event that you lose control of them. Of course, they'll also do the least harm in environmental respects as well--so there's a 2 for 1 advantage there.
posted by yoink at 11:00 AM on February 15, 2012


Just tell them you'll be able to get yourself out of a sticky situation by the better handling of a smaller car. Fight bullshit with bullshit.
posted by narcoleptic at 11:35 AM on February 15, 2012


I don't think the size of the Honda Fit's rear seat is an issue. I took a 10 hour roadtrip in one from Tennessee to Milwaukee. I rode with my cousin and her husband. My cousin's husband and I are both 6 feet tall. My cousin has a bad leg she had to keep elevated, and rode in the right rear seat with the front seat folded down so she could elevate her leg, so I was riding at 6 feet behind my cousin's 6 foot husband in the driver's seat (and vice versa when I drove for a bit). We were carrying a few days' luggage for my cousin and her husband, plus my full sized bicycle equipped for cross-country touring with four panniers and a handlebar bag, all inside the passenger compartment. We drove the 10 hours with one or two stops and were all very comfortable.

Four full-grown American adults would be just fine in that car. It's aptly named.
posted by akgerber at 12:10 PM on February 15, 2012


Thank you for your concern. If you would prefer to purchase me a different car, and assume all costs of insurance, maintenance, and operation for the life of the vehicle, I would gladly accept.
posted by radwolf76 at 12:15 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


In terms of whether a Fit is as safe as an older car, it might be worth having a look at this video of a 1995 Volvo vs a Toyota Yaris. Obviously the Vue's more recent than a 1995 Volvo, but having a modern car does make a pretty big difference.
posted by ambrosen at 12:37 PM on February 15, 2012


mingshan: Here's an article that might be helpful. It's by Malcolm Gladwell and focuses on active safety (the ability to avoid accidents) vs passive safety.

I came here to recommend this same article. The table of deaths per million cars in that article completely changed my thinking about car safety. The crash test results need to be taken with a grain of salt, because they don't tell you anything about the ability to avoid accidents.
posted by medusa at 4:42 PM on February 15, 2012


I think the argument to be made here is to take a broader view; yes, there are differences between the crash test ratings and safety rankings of an SUV and a subcompact (it seems). In fact, there may even be differences in the safety rankings and crash outcomes of the specific SUV you own and the specific subcompact you plan to purchase. But frankly, those differences pale in comparison to the difference in mortality between those who drive/ride cars and those who do not. You've already taken the overwhelming majority of the risk by driving/riding in a car; why quibble over details?
posted by heyheylanagirl at 5:01 PM on February 15, 2012


I came here to recommend this same article. The table of deaths per million cars in that article completely changed my thinking about car safety. The crash test results need to be taken with a grain of salt, because they don't tell you anything about the ability to avoid accidents.

Yes, but Gladwell's article is from 2004 and it's now out of date. It was written when SUVs were mainly actually SUVs - that is, vehicles built with body-on-frame construction, instead of unibody or monocoque construction, and without electronic stability control to prevent rollovers. ESC is now mandated on all vehicles, and because of concerns about fuel economy, SUVs have been replaced by crossovers, which are built on car frames - they're essentially just tall station wagons. According to a 2011 IIHS report [pdf], as a result of prevention of rollovers with ESC, SUVs are now "on balance safer than cars because their bigger size and weight provide greater protection in a crash."

Look, you can always be a little bit safer. I'm not saying you should drive around in a huge crossover, sucking back gas at unaffordable rates, just to be a bit safer in a crash. But why choose the vehicle that is the most vulnerable in a two-car crash? Why not give yourself and your kids a safety buffer, for very little penalty in cost or fuel economy? Certainly don't follow the terrible advice that some people are giving to be rude to your family who are just concerned for your safety.

If you want statistics to show your family that a Fit is as safe in a crash as a Civic or an Accord, they don't exist, because it's not. If you want to say that it's a risk you're willing to tolerate to save some money or make parking easier, then that's different. But if you really want to be safe and save money? But a 2008 Accord.
posted by Dasein at 8:36 PM on February 15, 2012


This is all very interesting information, and I'm hesitating to mark best answers before I mull over it a little bit -- I don't want to do that thing where you only mark people who agree with your starting proposition, you know? That said, I think a 0.000064% chance of a fatal accident per year is, you know, not terrible. It's not like we're putting in a swimming pool or anything...

For what it's worth, which is probably not much, I do feel like I'm a safer-than-normal and highly cautious driver -- which is to say, in 22 years of driving, I've been in precisely one accident, and in that one, somebody tapped my bumper while I was stopped at a light. (No visible damage to either car, no kids in the car at the time, not even worth reporting.)

The biggest true crash risk I foresee isn't any sort of head-on collision; it's people on cell phones drifting into another lane, or the above-mentioned car running a red light... and it sounds like all class sizes of vehicle are subject to the same side-impact tests, and the little cars do OK with those. Am I incorrect in either of these assumptions?
posted by Andrhia at 6:33 AM on February 16, 2012


it sounds like all class sizes of vehicle are subject to the same side-impact tests, and the little cars do OK with those. Am I incorrect in either of these assumptions?

No, you're right about that. Side test results can be compared. The only thing I would say is that you never know what kind of an accident you're going to get in to - someone isn't paying attention and turns left in front of you and you end up having a head-on collision. Or someone is drunk and drifts across the centre line on a road. It's just so unpredictable. These are definitely low-probability events, but they're high-impact - potentially life-altering. And, to me, a very important factor is that no matter how good a driver you are, you can't control what people around you do.

Different people presented with the same data will come to different conclusions based on their risk tolerance and perception of risk. There isn't a right or wrong answer here as to what size of car you should buy. I agree that it makes more sense for you to drive a minicar than for a teenage son to do so. I'm still not convinced it makes sense given the alternatives - but it's your decision. Good luck, and let us know what you decide.
posted by Dasein at 10:29 AM on February 16, 2012


Thanks again for all of your responses, everyone! The concerned relative seems less concerned now, and we're a lot more confident in our decision based on all of this data. Particularly the stuff about human beings not being able to calculate risk in anything like a rational way, the kind of accident you might get into being entirely out of your hands, etc., etc.

We've bought the Fit, and hope to actually receive it sometime in the next few days.
posted by Andrhia at 8:21 AM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


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