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Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Says Death Rates Double for Minicars

Minicars have become increasingly more popular as fuel prices have risen. Because of their newfound popularity, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety included them in their crash tests for the first time in 2006. The agency rated the cars for comparison of occupant protection in front, side, and rear crashes. What the Institute discovered from its testing is that driver death rates in minicars are higher than in any other vehicle category and more than double the death rates in midsize and large cars.

The results of the crash tests conducted by the Institute indicate which vehicles in each weight category provide the best protection in real crashes. This round of tests reveals big differences among the smallest cars.

Minicars weigh about 2,500 pounds or less. A typical small car weighs about 300 pounds more, and midsize cars weigh about 800 pounds more. A midsize SUV weighs 4,000 pounds or more, which is at least 60 percent more than a minicar weighs. In every vehicle category, the tests revealed that the risk of crash death is higher in the smaller, lighter models. This means that any car that’s very small and light isn’t a good choice in terms of safety.

Another objective of the testers was to find the minicars with the most crashworthy designs. The Nissan Versa scored best. It is slightly larger than the other cars tested by the Institute, which puts it in the small car classification. This is the next size class up from minicar. Still the agency included it in the minicar testing because the Versa is marketed to compete with minicars.

The Versa was the only car to earn the highest rating of good in all three tests. In the frontal test, its structure held up well, and there was minimal intrusion into the space around the driver dummy. The majority of injury measures were low. In the side test, the standard equipment side airbags prevented contact between the striking object and the heads of the crash test dummies.

The Honda Fit with its standard side airbags and the Toyota Yaris equipped with optional side airbags also earned good ratings in front and side tests. However, both cars failed to earn acceptable ratings for rear protection. The Yaris was rated marginal, and the Fit was rated poor.

The Hyundai Accent ranked lowest in overall testing. Researchers were especially concerned about its structural performance in the side test. Its standard airbags in front and rear seats provided good head protection. However, injury measures recorded elsewhere on the driver dummy revealed that a motorist in a similar type crash would be likely to sustain internal organ injuries, broken ribs, and a fractured pelvis.