Our Cars’ Weight Problem
How government is making our cars lighter, and more dangerous

A 2014 Smart ForTwo



Bigger and heavier is simply better when it comes to car crashes, all other things being equal.

We do not have to speculate about the safety ramifications of being in a smaller vehicle; the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) ran a rather expensive series of tests in which it pitted a smaller vehicle against the next size larger vehicle from the same manufacturer. Specifically, they ran a Honda Fit into a Honda Accord, a Toyota Yaris into a Toyota Camry, and a Mercedes C Class into a Smart Fortwo (owned by Mercedes).

Care to guess at the results?

Do you think the smaller cars performed “a little worse”? That would be a gross understatement. In 40 mph offset-collision tests, the small cars were basically obliterated by their larger siblings. Here are the tests. Make sure to watch what happens to the crash dummy in the smaller vehicle.

See why size matters?

The sad truth is that there is only so much magic that you can perform on the safety front by installing air bags and using high-tech materials like carbon fiber and even seat belts that begin to cinch you tighter as they anticipate the crash. The sad truth is that these well-intentioned and well-designed cars can’t defy physics.

There are approximately 42,000 motoring fatalities each year in the United States. That is a large number, and it has remained stubbornly at that level. Why, with all the technological innovations that have occurred in so many key areas, such as electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, and air bags, have we not reduced those numbers significantly? The major reason, I believe, is the smaller vehicles our government has been pushing in order to support the environmental agenda.

Back in the 1960s, Ralph Nader wrote the book Unsafe at Any Speed, exposing the deficiencies — and sometimes outright negligence — of automakers on the safety front. The book chronicled how the Big Three — GM, Ford, and Chrysler — sacrificed safety for the sake of comfort and style. A full chapter was dedicated to the Chevrolet Corvair, which was retired from production. Ralph Nader became a star.

It’s time for a new Nader to produce the sequel to that book. One that includes the definitive study that reveals the number of Americans who have died because of the push for lighter and more environmentally friendly cars.

With one full chapter that showcases how bigger cars fare against smaller cars in crash tests.

This time, it will be the government bureaucrats and ideologues on the left doing the explaining to an irate American public.

And the apologizing.

— Robert E. Norton is vice president for external affairs at the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and former assistant general counsel at Chrysler.