We all know the familiar silhouette of the tiny Smart car, and are familiar with its many benefits: ease of maneuvering and parking in cities, fuel efficiency (up to 44 miles per gallon), and low cost (starting around $12,000), but are these tiny cars actually safe in an accident? How can an accident in a Smart car impact car insurance rates? The answers are complex and largely dependent upon the driver.
The Smart car is built with an extremely sturdy, race car style safety cell, steel frame that gives it a very sturdy foundation and helps to disperse the force from an impact across the entire car. This coupled with some very high tech safety features such as front and side airbags, and disc brakes, means that the Smart car fares much better in collisions than its diminutive size would indicate. In fact, that Smart car performed so well in crash tests that it earned a five star rating from the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). This is the group’s highest crash safety rating. The tests simulate frontal impacts at 40 miles per hour, while the side impacts are simulated at 31 miles per hour with the force of a sport utility vehicle. Even in side impacts, the Smart car performed well, with its new aluminum reinforced cross bars.
In rear impacts, the Smart car received the second highest ranking the IIHS gives, “acceptable.” This is a very good rating for a car of this size.
However, measuring slightly over eight feet long and just less than five feet wide and tall and weighing in at 1,800 pounds, the Smart car is simply less safe in a collision than a larger, heavier vehicle where simple physics protect the driver. In a collision with an SUV (which frequently weighs over 4,000 pounds), even the vaunted, modern safety features of the Smart car will not be able to offset the disadvantage of being struck by a larger object.
The answer to the question is a complex one. In frontal impacts against stationary objects, or frontal or side impacts by like sized vehicles, the Smart car performs excellently. In impacts with larger objects, the Smart car does not perform as well. In cities with smaller vehicles and lower speeds, the Smart car will prove to be very safe in most circumstances. On the freeway, in areas with large numbers of SUV’s, it will be at a tremendous disadvantage in a collision with a larger vehicle. The solution though, as always, is to drive defensively and to remain alert, especially when in a small vehicle such as a Smart car.