Are “Smart Cars” Safe Cars?

Many drivers in the U.S. have turned to SUVs and pickups when purchasing a new car, feeling better protected in a larger vehicle. Other drivers, however, have turned to “smart cars” for their fuel efficiency and technological advancements.

While the actual Smart Car is no longer being sold in the U.S., similar smaller, tech-packed vehicles are readily available, often for less than an SUV or pickup. Are “smart cars” safe to drive on roads packed with much larger, faster-moving vehicles?

In this faster growning worl there are still chance to get hit by a car. A car accident lawyer can help you in this situation.

What Are Smart Cars?

As explained by the American Safety Council, nearly 30 years ago, the creator of Swatch watches a man named Nicholas Hayek came up with an idea for a compact, fuel-efficient vehicle that could fit in tight parking spaces.

He ultimately sold the concept to Mercedes Benz, who created the vehicle with a conventional engine and began selling it in Europe. Disappointed by the high asking price for the vehicle, the slow sales, and that conventional engine, Hayek pulled out of the project. However, in 2008, the U.S. became the 37th country to sell these micro vehicles. The vehicles hit the U.S. market about the same time the recession caused interest in high-priced, little cars to wane.

Furthering the difficulty of maintaining a grasp of the U.S. market, studies indicated that the cars were unsafe in crashes. Being less stable at high speeds than larger vehicles was another concern that kept the concept from completely taking off here, despite crash test ratings that indicated that the vehicle was reasonably safe for its size, particularly with the addition of safety features such as a hefty steel frame and airbags in the front and sides of the vehicle.

The Safety Issues Posed by “Smart Cars” and Smart Cars

Are “Smart Cars” Safe Cars?

Understanding that a “smart car” can refer to different things is important. The generic term is often used to describe a car outfitted with the latest technology. In contrast, the proper term refers to the fuel-efficient tiny cars produced by Mercedes Benz and left the U.S. market in 2019, though used models can still be purchased, and U.S. mechanics and parts stores can still assist Smart Car owners if they have issues with their vehicle.

Here is a look at some of the safety issues posed by “smart cars” and Smart Cars.

Generic “Smart Cars”

As explained by P.C. Magazine, the generic term “smart cars” is along the same lines as “smart televisions,” “smart home alarm systems,” and other products that are technologically advanced and capable of connecting to other systems. Since the 1960s, microprocessors have been used in motor vehicles.

By the 1990s, vehicles were equipped with GPS systems and night vision. Later versions included assisted parking, web and email access, voice control, and sensors that alert the driver if something has entered its path. The newest models have large infotainment systems where drivers and passengers can access music, watch movies, and even talk or text hands-free.

The pinnacle of “smart car” technology is self-driving vehicles. However, as the investigations into accidents resulting from autonomous vehicles continue, there’s still a way to go before we find ourselves on streets filled with cars driving without a person behind the wheel.

While many of these technological additions were intended to increase the safety of vehicles, there is such a thing as too much technology. According to Auto Blog, traffic fatalities continue to rise despite technology. Further, studies have indicated that many “safe” features, such as adaptive cruise and lane-keeping features, can pose yet another distraction for drivers to focus on. Beyond the safety concerns of surrounding a driver with bright colors, sounds, and interactive objects while they’re navigating through rush hour traffic.

Driver distractions involve anything that causes the driver to look away from the road, take their hands off the proper position on the steering wheel, or think about something other than the task of driving safely.

AARP notes that there are several actions a driver can take to avoid becoming distracted by their vehicle’s “smart features.” One of their suggestions is to learn whether there is an option to have a dealer turn certain unwanted features off. There are certain features the dealer is not authorized to turn off. Additionally, drivers are encouraged to ask their vehicle dealer, mechanic, or even a knowledgeable friend to help them understand what safety features they have and what those features do.

Auto Blog notes that this technology also comes at a steep financial price. If the average cost of a new car is $40,000, about 40 percent of the cost is for the semiconductor electronics used to make the vehicle “smart.” The same vehicle, minus all the electronics, would cost around $24,000.

Actual Smart Cars

Despite the bad rap that actual Smart Cars got as being unsafe, they tended to score relatively well in crash tests; for a compact car, that is. In other words, the vehicle was designed to withstand some impact, and the full array of airbags was designed to protect the lives of the occupants.

However, because of the Smart Car’s tiny size particularly in comparison to the size of other vehicles on the roadway drivers and their passengers are more likely to become injured or killed in an accident.

Smart Cars weigh between 1,550 and 1,850 pounds. They are around 106.1 inches long and 61.4 inches wide. Conversely, the average midsize SUV weighs around 4,336 pounds and measures 193.6 inches long and 75.8 inches wide. When it comes to a vehicle’s safety during a crash, this difference in size is often the difference between life and death.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a lighter vehicle will always be at a disadvantage in a crash involving a bigger vehicle. Larger vehicles feature a longer distance between the front of the vehicle and the occupant compartment.

As frontal impact crashes account for more than half of passenger vehicle occupant deaths, this increased distance offers more of the vehicle’s frame that can absorb the energy of the crash before it reaches the occupants. Further, because of the difference in the weight of the vehicles, the Smart Car will likely be pushed backward in an accident, placing less force on the occupants of an SUV while placing increased force on the occupants of the Smart Car.

Even as auto manufacturers have made compact cars safer for their occupants, they’ve also focused on making SUVs and pickups safer for the occupants of smaller cars. Twenty years ago, car occupants were 59 times more likely to die in collisions involving SUVs and pickups than in collisions involving another passenger car or minivan.

In recent years, that rate has decreased to a 28 percent increased likelihood as a result of design changes that have aligned the energy-absorbing structures with those of smaller vehicles.

Smaller Vehicles are More Fuel Efficient Though, Aren’t They?

One of the main selling points of smaller Smart Cars or “smart cars” is that they have traditionally offered better fuel efficiency than gas-guzzling SUVs and pickups. However, IIHS explains, automakers have focused on making larger vehicles kinder on the planet and the driver’s wallet in recent years.

The rise of electric vehicles, hybrids, vehicles with auto stop/start engines, and more efficient internal combustion engines have all made it possible for someone to have a bigger car without as big of a pain point at the pump.

Where Smart Cars and Small “Smart Cars” are Safer?

One type of accident in which Smart Cars and small “smart cars” are safer is pedestrian accidents. The Governors Highway Safety Association reported that the significant increase in pedestrian accidents has corresponded with the rising popularity of pickups and SUVs.

While pedestrian accidents involving all types of vehicles are rising, those involving larger vehicles rise at a more precipitous pace. The SUV’s increased weight and its taller profile result in a higher impact point on the pedestrian’s body, leaving them more vulnerable to fatal injuries.

A landmark investigation by the Detroit Free Press and the USA Today Network revealed that pickups and SUVs are in around one-third of all pedestrian accidents and account for around 40 percent in all fatal pedestrian accidents. Sales of SUVs surpassed sedans as the best-selling vehicles in the U.S. in 2014. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association’s calculations, fatal pedestrian accidents have increased by around 41 percent since that time.

Smaller vehicles are safer in pedestrian accidents as they feature a lower profile and a lower impact point. Where the impact of a large SUV would likely occur in an adult or older child’s head, chest, or abdomen, the impact point would be in the lower extremities with a smaller car, typically producing less likelihood of fatal injuries. Additionally, the lower profile of the smaller vehicle means the driver has greater visibility when driving forward and fewer blind spots when backing up.

How to Choose a Safe Car?

Andrew Finkelstein Jacoby & Meyers LLP

Car Accident Lawyer, Andrew Finkelstein

When purchasing a car, drivers are often wooed by the “smart features” that the car provides or by its fuel efficiency. While these features can be interesting and even important, safety considerations should be at the forefront of your car-buying decision.

Here are some tips on choosing a safe car.

  • Know the vehicle’s crashworthiness. The IIHS offers crash test ratings for vehicles that show how well the features of the vehicle you’re considering hold up in accidents, as well as crash avoidance and mitigation features that are available on specific makes and models.
  • Look at the vehicle’s structural design. As explained by the Insurance Information (III) Institute, a good structural design features both a strong occupant compartment and front and rear ends designed to crumple in a crash to reduce damage to the occupant compartment.
  • Consider the vehicle’s restraint systems. The seat belts, airbags, and head restraints are intended to work with the vehicle’s structure to protect the occupants. Lap and shoulder belts should have crash tensioners that react quickly to remove belt slack, keeping the rider’s body from being thrust forward. The steering column should be located far from the occupant’s body to avoid airbag injuries during a crash. Side airbags and locking head restraints can stabilize the occupant’s head and neck during a crash.
  • Anti-lock brakes are an important safety feature, but just as important is the ability to know how to use them properly, as they require hard, continuous pressure.
  • Look for vehicles that have an automatic crash notification system. If your car is involved in an accident, this system can alert 911 and send responders important information about the crash.

In addition to choosing a safe car, drivers can also enhance their safety when traveling by avoiding using certain technology when operating the vehicle. For example, many vehicle infotainment systems that provide GPS allow the driver to input an address into the system while the car is moving.

When the driver is doing this, they’re not looking at the road. Remember that the smartest and most important safety system in a vehicle is a driver with eyes on the road, hands positioned on the wheel, and thoughts focused on driving safely.

If you’ve been injured in a car accident caused by a distracted driver, contact an experienced attorney  for a free case evaluation.