The good news is that traffic fatalities are at historic lows, thanks in large part to increasingly sophisticated auto designs, advanced safety features and stricter seatbelt and DUI laws. The bad news is auto crashes still accounted for 32,788 deaths in 2010, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which means a vehicle-related fatality occurs an average of once every 16 minutes. Motor vehicle collisions remain the leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of three and 34.
Choosing the safest auto available is particularly important when shopping for a small car, where every advantage is essential. That’s because the laws of physics dictate that, all else being equal, a smaller and lighter vehicle will tend to fare worse in a crash than will a larger and heavier model.
We started out by consulting the 2012 model-year list of "Top Safety Picks" from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a non-profit organization funded by the insurance industry. These included a record 31 mid-priced and luxury small cars. "For the second year running a record number of models qualify as Top Safety Picks," says IIHS president Adrian Lund. "It’s tough to win, and we commend auto manufacturers for making safety a top priority."
To qualify, a car must garner top scores across the board for performance in front, side, rollover, and rear-end crashes based on ratings determined by the IIHS’ evaluations. Vehicles are rated in each category on a basis of "good," "acceptable," "marginal" or "poor" performance.
We further winnowed down the number of choices to the 10 models on our Safest Small Cars list by identifying the models that offer the most safety features to both help protect their occupants in a crash and help their drivers steer clear of collisions in the first place.
Like all the vehicles in our "Safest Small Cars" list, this racy compact luxury wagon-like four-door hatchback is a 2012 "Top Safety Pick" according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and includes a full range of passive and active safety features, including front, front-side and side-curtain airbags, antilock brakes and electronic stability control. In addition, the A3 offers seat-mounted side-impact airbags for rear passengers and all-wheel drive for enhanced wet-road traction as optional equipment.
This luxury-oriented adaptation of the compact Chevrolet Cruze sedan packs no less than 10 airbags, including knee-height airbags for the driver and front passenger and seat-mounted airbags for rear riders. Also standard is General Motors’ OnStar safety/communications system that automatically engages to seek assistance if a crash occurs.
Feeling more upscale than most compact cars, the Cruze is a solid choice for those who want to downsize their rides. In addition to the basics, the Cruze includes 10 standard airbags, including rear seat-mounted and front knee-height airbags. Also included is the OnStar communications/safety system that features automatic crash notification.
All new for 2012 the Chevy Sonic is a sophisticated and engaging subcompact car. Like the larger Cruze with which it shares powertrains and other components it comes with 10 airbags, including rear seat-mounted and front knee-height airbags, along with the OnStar communications/safety system that automatically calls for assistance in the event of a collision.