Size And Safety

By Anica Wong

October 3, 2014 4 min read

We've all done it. We pass a smart car in our Explorers or Escalades and shake our head; we could squish one of those little cars like a bug. They can't be safe, can they? It's basically like driving a sardine can, we think to ourselves. No way would we get in one of those.

In fact, many people aren't buying into the super-teeny-tiny car concept. At 8 feet 10 inches long, the fortwo, smart's main model, is the littlest car sold in the United States. According to The Car Connection, a car review site, only about 10,000 smart cars are sold annually.

But we still encounter smarts on our local roads and freeways. While these cars can be perfect in a big city where parking space is limited, their safety among big rigs has to be questioned.

Smart, a subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz, has the benefit of superior engineering and testing under its parent company. Mercedes-Benz has consistently been at the forefront of safety research and that didn't seem to stop with its micro-car subsidiary. Smart's website touts the patented tridion safety cell concept in all of its models. This steel cage is supposed to protect you, as the passenger in the car, from anything outside. Think of the safety cell as the shell around a nut. This cage is built to distribute the force and energy of a crash across the whole car.

The safety video of the car touts that smarts are "small on size, big on safety" and that the tridion safety cell can withhold 3.5 tons, proving their claim by showing an SUV on top of the smart's shell.

Although the concept of air bags can be traced back to the early 1950s, Mercedes-Benz reintroduced them in their 1981 models, making them standard in almost all vehicles. It would make sense, then, that smart cars would have an intense focus on the use of air bags. In the fortwo, there are eight full-size air bags just within the front (only) two seats that protect passengers from every angle within the vehicle.

Now that we know the two important pieces of the car's safety package (tridion safety cell and numerous air bags), what do the professionals rate these teeny-tiny models? The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, gave the smart cars a "good" rating in three out of four categories: frontal moderate offset, side impact and roof strength test results. A "good" rating is the highest rating the IIHS gives. The super-compact car got dinged in the head restraints and seats category, only scoring an "acceptable," which is what the car has been rated in that category since the IIHS started testing it back in 2008.

It should be noted, though, that the smart models were not tested in the new, tough front crash test. But any grade schooler with just a bit of physics knowledge might be able to make a hypothesis about what happens when a large semi and a super-small car crash head-on. The car is ideal for around-town jetting and making your friends jealous with its parking abilities, but daredevils might be the only ones who take it out into the land of Explorers and Escalades.

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