Sorry Detroit, Heavy Cars Are Not Safer


A while back we covered the Competitive Enterprise Institute's claim that the new CAFE standards will cost lives due to lighter and, in their opinion, more unsafe cars. That led to some animated discussion--as well as some confusion--as to whether or not the weight of a vehicle determines how well it performs in a crash. Well, according to Laura Schewel, an analyst with MOVE, and Noah Buhayar, a fellow at the Rocky Mountain Institute, such confusion is common:

Many consumers believe that the goals of a "safer car" and a "more fuel-efficient car" are at loggerheads, and that any increase in gas mileage will lead directly to increased fatalities.

This misconception is based in large part on a common assumption: The heavier the car, the safer it must be. Collectively, Americans have bought into this idea. The mass of the average personal vehicle in the U.S. has gone up 29% since 1987.

So what, in fact, makes a car safe?Clearly, there is a tendency to associate weight with safety. After all, having a massive cage of steel surrounding a driver is comforting, but it turns out that " the best scientific research shows that automotive safety has nothing to do with vehicle weight, but everything to do with vehicle size and design." This is because vehicles do not "collide like billiard balls on a table; they have crush zones and structural features designed to absorb impact." As a result, the surface area available (either thanks to a long or wide design) is what determines the extent to which the vehicle can absorb the impact.

Based on those facts, a heavy car can be safe, provided that it is well designed. However, heavy cars are also worse when it comes to crash avoidance. And then there is the issue of fuel efficiency, which is directly related to, among other things, the overall weight of the vehicle.

None of this should be too surprising. Automakers, such as Nissan, are actively working to lighten their cars. Meanwhile, start-ups such as Aptera are looking to revolutionize vehicle efficiency with their ultra-lightweight designs. And "studies have proven that increasing the length of a car (its crush zone) while maintaining the same weight leads to reduced fatalities."

Sorry Detroit: it turns out those heavy cars you've been making all these years aren't any safer after all.

Via: ::Yahoo! Green

See Also: ::"CO2: We Call it Life" ads: We Call it Hysterical, ::China, Russia and Cuba Seem to Agree With the Competitive Enterprise Institute, ::Huffington Post Gets Astroturfed, ::DaimlerChrysler's Bionic 70 mpg Car and ::GM Keeps its Greener Cars Out of North America