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Are Minicars Unsafe At No Speed?

The new influx of minicars could cause safety problems.

by on Aug.28, 2009

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Rear-end collisions, when a usually stopped car is struck from behind by a careless driver, are made to order for plaintiff lawyers.

They are, in the total mix, rarely fatal but can lead to painful neck and spine “whiplash” injuries with attendant claims. These are hard to defend because the cause is obvious, even though the problem is that such injuries are hard to either prove or disprove and many are suspected of being fraudulent.

Nevertheless, noise about whiplash injuries has led to some 40 years of vision-impairing head restraints in our cars under Federal motor vehicle safety standards.

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In the real world, rear-enders are not a significant source of fatal injuries (unless of course, it is you or one of your loved ones who’s the victim). In 2008, according to NHTSA numbers derived from FARS reports, there were a mere 1,187 rear-end car crash deaths, out of the total fatal accidents of 37, 261 reported.

This low number likely will change for the worse if the new influx of minicars to the American marketplace continues unabated and unregulated. So far, the minicar segment amounts to a tiny share. In he first six months of 2009, total sales of those I count as mini came to only 148,889, or just 4.7% of the market. And all were down significantly from year-before sales.

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My list of minicars includes the Smart ForTwo, BMW Mini, Chevrolet Aveo hatchback, Toyota Yaris hatchback, Honda Fit hatchback and the new Kia Soul hatchback. Even the larger VW New Beetle appears to offer insufficient rear crush space behind the rear seat.

Outside the U.S., such tiny vehicles amount to a greater share of the market. But outside North America, they are not overwhelmed in the traffic flow by the proportion of big pickup trucks, SUVs, vans and considerably heavier passenger cars. So our traffic is inherently more dangerous to tiny cars, leaving rear crush distance aside.

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