By: Expert No. 40237, P.E.
Large Vs. Small
Whether purchasing a new or used vehicle, safety should be considered along with utility, comfort, price and style. After the use or non-use of seat belts, the single most important factor in determining your chance of getting killed or seriously injured in an accident is your vehicle’s weight. In fact, an extra 300 pounds of vehicle weight improves your chances of survival as much as an air bag. Try to avoid smaller vehicles, especially those weighing less than 3,000 pounds. This choice will cost more at the gas pump and might offend your sense of environmental responsibility, but it could save your life.

There are some exceptions, and you can get detailed information on crash performance from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety –



Vehicles Safety

Stay Away From Short Suv’s

Sport-Utility vehicles are particularly popular these days, and are generally safer than small cars. The SUV’s with the worst safety record are those with a wheel-base less than 105 inches. These vehicles tend to have inferior handling characteristics, and are more likely to overturn in an accident. Most SUVs have a high center of gravity, and can overturn in emergency handling maneuvers, especially when fully loaded with passengers and cargo. Rollover accidents are particularly dangerous, and account for a disproportionate share of fatalities.

In general, larger and heavier vehicles offer greater protection to occupants in a collision, and higher quality vehicles tend to have better seats, seatbelts and head-rests. All new cars and light trucks now come equipped with air bags, but your primary protection in the event of a collision is your seat belt.

Do Not Depend On Air Bags To Prevent Injury

You may be surprised to know that although air bags help to prevent some fatalities and serious injuries in frontal collisions, seat belts offer far greater protection and are effective in many more types of accidents. Please use them and teach your children to buckle up whenever they get into a vehicle.

In studying the effectiveness of seat belts and air bags, the U.S. Department of Transportation has concluded that using a manual lap and shoulder belt is the most effective measure you can use to avoid serious injury in a collision. Your air bags do not reduce the risk of serious injury if you are wearing your seat belts, but air bags reduce the risk of fatalities, even for belted occupants.

Effectiveness of Protection Systems

Safest Vs. Most Dangerous Vehicles

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) compiles data on crash-related injuries and reports the relative rates of injury by make and model. Those models with death and/or injury experience more than 50% worse than average should be avoided. For 2001 – 2003 models, these include:

  • Kia Optima
  • Dodge Neon
  • Kia Spectra Sedan/Hatchback
  • Kia Reo
  • Suzuki Grand Vitara
  • Mitsubishi Gallant
  • Suzuki Aerio
  • Toyota Echo
  • Toyota Celica
  • Toyota Corolla
  • Mitsubishi Lancer
  • Hyundai Accent
  • Ford Escort

Those vehicles with a record of fewer than 50% of the average deaths/injuries can be considered especially safe vehicles. These include:

  • Audi A6/A8
  • Saab 9-5
  • Chevrolet Corvette
  • Lexus SC430
  • Ford F-150/250/F350
  • GMC Sonoma
  • Chevrolet Tahoe
  • Lexus LX
  • Lexus LS430
  • Ford Thunderbird Convertible
  • Mercedes SL
  • Porche Boxter
  • Dodge Ram 2500
  • Chevrolet Avalanche 1500
  • Chevrolet Suburban
  • Buick Park Avenue
  • Jaguar XK Convertible
  • Porche 911
  • Chevrolet Silverado 1500/2500/3500
  • GMC Sierra 1500/2500
  • GMC Yukon
  • Toyota Land Cruiser

For a more detailed listing including over 200 makes and models, visit

When shopping for a car or truck for your kids, remember that they are far more likely than you to be involved in a serious collision. You might want to consider one of the heavier second hand cars or trucks.

Personally, I think the ideal car for a teenager is a 10 to 15 year-old Volvo. They are reliable, economical, and have a very good safety record. Too many people buy new small cars for young drivers, based on cost. You can find an older, larger, safer vehicle on the same budget.

If you have young children, they should always ride in the back seat. One of the most important lessons you can teach them is to always, always wear their seat belt.

Expert No. 40237, P.E. is experienced in mechanical engineering, automotive, electrical, medical devices, patent litigation, combustion, fires and safety engineering.

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