Size matters with car safety

14 October 2006
Les Potts

Size matters with car safety and the Defender is amongst the safestDrivers of 4x4s or people carriers are 50 times less likely to be killed in crashes with another car than those of small and medium-sized cars, according to the Department of Transport.

The safest cars for drivers are the Land Rover Defender, Mercedes ML class, Toyota Landcruiser and Isuzu Trooper.

The cars with the worst records for driver deaths and serious injuries are the old-style Mini, the Fiat Panda, pre-1993 Nissan Micra, Daewoo Matiz and Suzuki Swift.

The DoT looked at police reports of more than 138,000 crashes from 2000 to 2004. Drivers of small and medium-sized cars involved in collisions with another car had a one in 200 chance of being killed, compared with fewer than one in 10,000 for drivers of people-carriers and 4x4s.

Just three per cent of 4x4 drivers were killed or seriously injured in collisions, compared with seven per cent of small-car drivers.

The figures were published on the DoT's website but the study has not been publicised. Some small cars bucked the trend and showed it was possible to combine fuel efficiency with safety.

The Citroen C3, which weighs less than a tonne and travels 48 miles to the gallon, is twice as safe as the Honda CRV 4x4 which weighs 1.5 tonnes and gives 31mpg.

Some models have improved markedly over the past 15 years as makers have added features such as air bags and side-impact protection.

The Mini showed the biggest improvement with 14 per cent of drivers killed or seriously injured in collisions involving the original model, compared with five per cent of the new, BMW-produced version. The new Mini is twice as heavy, as well as taller, wider and longer.

Other models, such as the Nissan Sunny, Vauxhall Astra and Rover 200/400 and 25/45, improved little or not at all over the years.

The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety said that the figures did not take account of how a car was driven.

The council's director, Rob Gifford, told The Times: "Younger drivers, who take more risks and have more crashes, are more likely to drive smaller, older cars".

"The big problem arises when a large and small vehicle collide. The high bumper of a 4x4 may override the structural reinforcement of a small car and smack into the interior where the occupants are sitting".

"We would all be safer if we all drove around in small or medium-sized cars. But the total car fleet is becoming more incompatible, with sales growing fastest in the biggest and smallest categories."