Many people ask me, "What is the safest car I can buy to protect my family?" Just as there is no perfect car, there is no perfect answer to the question. However, some generalities can be helpful, and websites provide research and comparisons of the relative safety of vehicles.
In my prior post topic 'Whiplash', I described to you the differences in stiffness between the platforms or chassis in various car makes and models and why that is important for your safety. The platforms designed by some manufacturers are relatively soft, allowing more crushing of the vehicle to occur in order to dissipate the crash forces before that force is transmitted to occupants.
Occupants of these cars and trucks usually have fewer injuries than those in vehicles that are stiffer. A stiff vehicle platform and stiff surrounding structures reduce crush, thereby resulting in less property damage to the vehicle but, more importantly, typically much greater damage to the driver and passengers in that vehicle. Why? Because more force from the impact is sent through the body of the occupant since it wasn't dissipated during the crushing of as much metal. We call that dissipation of energy a "ride down."
If you're looking for a car to buy, you want one that has plenty of metal around you and that is soft enough to absorb the energy of a wreck by crushing appropriately to save you, not the vehicle itself. Another factor that affects your safety in a wreck is the geometry of the headrest. For example, is it close enough to your head to catch it quickly in a rear end collision, and does it go to the top of your ears so that your head won't be forced back over it? These are important considerations. Sit in a car and check the position of the head rest in relation to your head to see if it's geometry fits the criteria just mentioned.
Other factors affecting safety are things you can't so easily check like the number and quality of the roof welds, the design of door latches, side impact protection devices, if any, and seat belt geometry. All seat belts are not designed the same. Some have the anchor points on the floor so far forward that they fail to give adequate protection. Others permit a passenger's body to submarine under the lap part of the belt. That can cause terrible organ damage and paralysis. You can't sit in a car and effectively test these factors, but you can go to research sources. Some are very good. My favorite is Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a non-profit research group that gives very good safety comparisons for vehicles. Another excellent source is The Center for Auto Safety. And don't forget about the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's website.
In the end, remember that the fine appearance of a car's style doesn't equate to safety. Its beauty may be only skin-deep.
Wes Pittman is a Panama City, Florida Personal Injury attorney. He has been representing injured people for over 30 years. Wes also appears weekly on Thursday during the noon news on WJHG, Panama City and covers a variety of topics. If you have a legal question relating to personal injury, Ask Wes! You can also visit the firm website and enter the details of your new injury to submit for review.