Intelligence in a Vehicle
Anup at the Fuel Consumption Debate
makes notes that Americans might finally be paying attention to fuel consumption when they choose their cars. Of course, they still might think that giant hulking SUVs are safer
. It's a common misconception, and he links to a great report from Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (pdf here
) debunking that notion. The problem is, people compile their statistics on car-class safety averaged over class, and there are some small cars that are just cheap. Plotting driver-deaths per million vehicles sold, aside from family-oriented minivans, some of the safest vehicles are the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry, beating out any SUVs. In fact, debunking a notion that big cars mean fewer deaths on the freeway, the reports authors, Tom Wenzel and Marc Ross plotted deaths of drivers of the other
vehicle as a function of the car they crashed into along the verticle axis of their scatter plot--making me wonder if the drivers of Dodge Rams should be required to get special safety training for their license. Anup links to a Wall Street Journal article
about how Detroit might finally be catching on.
It makes sense to me that it's not weight that makes one safe, it's volume---crumple-worthy volume. This is one reason why I'm really interested in the Smart Cars that I oohed and ahed over
while in Europe: they're pretty darn safe. According to this Wired article
I read almost a year ago,
So Smart designers invented the Fortwo's main style and safety feature: a bulky steel cell, visible inside and out, that frames the passenger compartment like a roll cage and absorbs the shock of a head-on collision. What happens if some Detroit-engineered behemoth plows into the featherweight Fortwo? I got a pretty good idea, watching a Smart-sponsored crash test with a Mercedes E-Class: The big sedan crumpled, and the Fortwo ricocheted. In a separate test, by the European New Car Assessment Program, a 40-mph impact with a concrete wall failed to dent the safety cell. They awarded the Smart a three-star crash rating - nothing like a Volvo but better than a Ford Escort, which weighs nearly half a ton more than the Fortwo.
DaimlerChrysler decided the only way to sell such a car in America was to style it as an SUV, due out next year, but a stone's throw across the North Bay from me, Santa Rosa's Zap Car
is modifying and importing regular little Smarts. At 70 mpg, that's seems pretty wise.