No Small Question: How Safe Are Tiny Cars

Posted by: Lydia on 6/12/2017

Category: General

Small cars will always hold an attraction for many. Just as muscle cars can deliver raw power, and sports cars premium performance, small cars have their own unique niche, too.

You may like a small car because it's sleek and fuel-efficient. It may make parking much easier for you if you live in a crowded neighbourhood. Whatever the case, small cars are definitely popular, but there are also a number of safety considerations to take into account. Here’s a look at some things to consider before you buy.

The Safety of Modern Small Cars

In decades gone by, the popular perception was ‘The bigger the car, the safer it is’. This was bad news for anyone trying to sell small cars based on their safety features. While this perception has some truth to it, the car industry as a whole has undergone huge changes in innovation and technology in recent years. Just as we now expect equipment like power steering, air conditioning, and traction control to be standard in any vehicle we buy, we also expect that small cars will be big on safety features.

And it’s true that the upgraded safety features of the modern small car have been a big part of their popularity. In 2016 alone, over 224,000 small cars were sold across Australia. In fact, the small car industry has advanced so much that a number of vehicles in this category now hold the maximum 5 star safety rating from the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP).

These advances have also occurred alongside the progress in safety features in other vehicle categories. While not every car may have the autopilot technology Tesla is pioneering to prevent accidents, the presence of cruise control, ABS braking, and a host of other standard features means our roads are safer today than they were in years gone by. Whether driving in a small car or a big one, this is surely good news for everyone sharing the roads.

But while this is positive progress, it doesn’t mean that all safety concerns regarding small cars have been resolved. There remain some real issues that technology is unlikely to ever solve completely as long as imperfect human drivers are involved.

The Driver’s Environment

A big factor in the debate surrounding small car safety has to do with when they are on the roads. Most motorists recognise it’s usually far safer to drive on a quiet Sunday morning at 9 a.m. than Friday night at 5 p.m. The more cars on the road, the greater the likelihood of an accident.

In a dense urban area with slow traffic under 40 or 50kms, a small car may not be a big problem. Ditto if drivers of small cars are able to avoid peak hour traffic and freeways. For many Australians who may be remote workers, stay-at-home mums or dads, or are retired, it may be possible to have a small car and drive all the time in (relatively) low-risk conditions. But if your lifestyle frequently requires you to be driving on the busiest roads at the busiest times, then a small car may be an issue.

However you look at it, when it comes to car safety, the smaller the vehicle, the more vulnerable it can be in a big accident. Recent years and decades have seen great innovations in vehicles, but some of those innovations, like electric and hybrid vehicles, come with new safety risks. Nonetheless, a small car involved in a high-speed crash with a bigger vehicle will always lose. Even the safest drivers of small cars can be at risk due to another driver’s error.

This is important to keep in mind if you’re looking to purchase a small car. Overall, it’s not the size of the car so much as the time periods in which you’re driving it that really matter.

Other Drivers’ Perceptions

Drivers react differently to different types of vehicles around them. That’s the reason you get a little nervous when you see an 18-wheeler bearing down on you in your mirrors. It’s also why most drivers drive wide when they come across a motorcyclist to avoid risk of an accident.
These perception factors play into how you’ll feel when driving your small car - and how other drivers will react to it.

While most motorists will be decent about sharing the road with smaller cars, some will feel they can take advantage of it by driving more aggressively around you, cutting you off, and just being all around pains. If you’re a confident driver - or a super tall person who has no problem with the Nelsons of the world - then this may not be an issue. For those who just want a stress-free drive from to A to B, it might be.

Buying a small car can be a lot of fun. It can also deliver you a direct connection to some great pop culture, from the speedy scenes in The Italian Job to the comedic antics of Mr. Bean.

Driving should be enjoyable, so there’s certainly nothing wrong with finding a car that makes you smile. It’s just important to keep the safety factors in mind, especially in regards to what area you drive in.

To some extent, a driver may be able to minimise these safety issues. In addition to being selective about the times of day you’re driving and where, you can choose a vehicle with a max safety rating. You can also take a defensive driving course to enhance your skills in anticipation and accident prevention.

If, after all that, you still find yourself feeling nervous driving a small car, it may be best to seek out a bigger car for now, and wait until self-driving cars make our roads even safer.

How safe do you feel when driving a small car? Let us know in the comments below:

Image: Pixabay