James Healey: Small Cars Will Kill You Dead

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

USA Today automotive columnist Jame Healey sees dead people. "If the switch to smaller, lighter vehicles continues to grow, the result could be anywhere from dozens to thousands of traffic deaths that would have been avoided in bigger vehicles, according to fatality records and safety forecasters." It's an old argument (which doesn't necessarily make it a bad one), for which Healey trots out some old stats: a 2002 National Academy of Sciences' report that concludes "Small vehicles have higher fatality rates than larger ones." It's just the first salvo in a sustained stat campaign that, strangely, fights both sides of the argument at once. Or, if you prefer, takes a fair and balanced view. In the middle of the piece, a University of Michigan physics professor nails it. There are "lots of answers" to the question of small-car safety, Marc Ross opines. "There just aren't any simple ones." Perhaps that explains the discrepancy between Healey's sensationalistic opening and yet another wishy-washy USA Today headline: "People buy small cars even though they can be deadly."

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

More by Robert Farago

Join the conversation
4 of 22 comments
  • Glenn126 Glenn126 on Aug 20, 2007

    I have to agree with Stephan's assessment - but the thing is, we Americans "learned" the hard way that we could manage fine with far smaller vehicles after the 1973 oil crisis, started to forget, got slapped in the face with a wet fish again in 1979, started to forget and got whacked again in 1990, started to forget, got hit by a hurricaine and $3.66 a gallon gas in 2005 (wasn't it?) - so now are we starting to LEARN yet? The point is, we needn't have forgotten after learning the first time in 1973, but that is what humanity is. Not just we Americans. All of us. There aren't any easy answers. But I for one have been saying since 1974 - when I first started to drive - doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that we should drive what we need (in mass and size) compared to what we want "just because." Doesn't mean to say cars have to be boring. Or even tiny. Just think outside the (SUV) box, for one thing. We just got a small pop-up camper. We therefore could not use our Prius, but we do have a 2nd car we drive about 6000 miles a year on. So we looked at the most economical car that could reasonably tow the pop-up. It ended up to be a 2007 Hyundai Sonata four cylinder. When pulling out of the camp ground on the pop-up's maiden run 8 days ago, surrounded by huge trucks and SUVs, massive pop-ups, massive trailers and huge motor homes, we got the funniest look from this one dude. Like we were from planet Xylaphone, or something. We just chose as much as we needed and wanted, and went with it. Same thing for cars. Hopefully in two years, we can buy a hybrid replacement when the lease runs out, or maybe a clean diesel, or something. Don't want an SUV! Not even a clean diesel one.

  • Ryan Knuckles Ryan Knuckles on Aug 20, 2007

    I have always driven small cars. I don't particularly like them, but 12MPG is not college commuter friendly. I have had nearly all of my friends and family comment on how each of my compact cars are "death traps" and the like. I never had a wreck in any the bad enough to prove or disprove this theory, but they seemed safe enough to me. I wasn't nervous when in traffic around SUVs, but I had a few careless truck drivers scare me pretty bad.

  • 210delray 210delray on Aug 20, 2007

    It's ironic that the Jetta pictured really isn't a small car anymore. It weighs over 3200 pounds (close to a Camry) and gives up only about an inch in overall width. The only dimension in which it's smaller than the Camry is in overall length: 10 inches shorter.

  • Rpn453 Rpn453 on Aug 21, 2007

    Great first post, Sherborn Sean! The more similar in size the collection of vehicles on the road is, the safer everyone is. Well, except those that gave up their SUVs. They'll have to suffer the same injuries as the people they hit instead of just killing them and walking away.