Minis Safer than Trucks; Stupid People Buy SUVs

Nothing like a controversial title to start off an article about vehicles, huh?

It’s a silly title, but, according to an article from the New Yorker, it’s strangely accurate.

I’m just starting to think about my next vehicle, and I’m looking at the Austin Mini. But my wife asked: is it safe?

Well, in frontal crash tests comparing the Mini and a Ford F-150 pickup truck, the Mini came out WAY ahead. And the F-150 is the base truck for both the Ford Expedition and the Lincoln Navigator (and presumably the Lincoln Aviator too).

But this article that appeared in the New Yorker really took the cake. It shows why smaller cars are often significantly safer than large, heavy SUVs. The article is severely unflattering to SUV owners. As it states:

. . . internal industry market research concluded that S.U.V.s tend to be bought by people who are insecure, vain, self-centered, and self-absorbed, who are frequently nervous about their marriages, and who lack confidence in their driving skills.

Semi-gratuitous insults aside, the perception that SUVs are safe is just that: perception. It bears little resemblance to reality. The article includes a graph that shows deaths per million vehicles on the road for about 50 different cars, vans, and SUVs. SUVs feature prominently in the top 10 or 20.

The benefits of being nimble–of being in an automobile that’s capable of staying out of trouble–are in many cases greater than the benefits of being big.

Even more interesting are the psychological reasons why people feel safer in bigger, higher, heavier vehicles (in spite of the fact that bigger means harder to steer, higher means easier to roll, and heavier means harder to stop.)

Gladwell says it has to do with “learned helplessness,” a quality that results from people feeling they have little control over what happens, and therefore are passive.

Our fixation with helplessness distorts our perceptions of risk. “When you feel safe, you can be passive,” Rapaille says of the fundamental appeal of the S.U.V.