For the most part, the safety of a particular vehicle is directly tied to its mass, or put another way, how much metal is between you and the outside world. Inversely proportional, however, is fuel economy, or range in the case of electric vehicles. This is the reason that motorcycles can often be found ranging over 100 mpg, but offer exactly zero protection from the elements, including rain, wind, and heavy metal, that is, another vehicle.
We’ve long known that driving an SUV is safer for exactly this reason, but only if you are the one driving the SUV. The driver of the Smart car parked under the axle won’t fare so well. In any case, the question is, do you sacrifice fuel economy for safety?
Is it even possible to get both in a small vehicle? A consortium of engineers, researchers, and automakers in Germany are currently working to find out. The next-generation of small and fuel-efficient vehicles could also be the safest ever.
One prototype in the Visio.M project includes a small vehicle passenger compartment made of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic. This is the same material that is used in race cars, luxury cars, and aircraft, which is lightweight enough to not interfere with fuel efficiency, but also offer enough safety to ensure your fragile human body remains more or less intact.
Advanced seat belts are another facet being researched, to hold just the right amount of tension to dissipate impact forces. All this new technology and special material applications is going to be costly, so it could be a while before something like the Toyota iQ EV is going to be just as safe as the 4Runner.