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Even people who know very little about the laws of physics will find few surprises on the 2014 edition of the best and worst cars for preventing passenger injuries, just released by Insure.com.
The 10 best cars for preventing passenger injuries are not cars at all, but large, costly trucks and sport-utility vehicles like the Ford F-350 and Cadillac Escalade. The 10 worst cars for preventing passenger injuries fall into precisely the opposite category: small, lightweight cars that stress low prices and fuel economy.
Insure.com analyzed insurance rates for Personal Injury Protection (PIP) and Medical Payments (MedPay) – the coverage that pays for injuries to your passengers in a crash. Using insurance rates for more than 750 vehicles in our annual car insurance comparison study, we identified the vehicles with the lowest and highest costs for PIP and MedPay coverage.
Size matters most
Heavier vehicles more effectively protect passengers, says Russ Rader, spokesman for the Arlington, Va.-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In a head-on crash between a lighter and heavier vehicle, the heavier vehicle will drive the lighter one backwards, increasing the forces on the occupants in the light vehicle and reducing forces on the occupants in the heavier one.
The Ford F-350 weighs 3 tons, nearly three times what a Toyota Yaris weighs.
In crashes with roadside objects, such as trees or poles, it's more likely that a heavier vehicle will be able to move the object, reducing the severity of the crash for the occupants.
In addition, larger vehicles have more "crush space" in the front end, which means it takes longer for the vehicle to come to a complete stop in the crash. This helps an occupant ride down the crash over a longer period, reducing the severity of the impact on the body.
Why the price tag matters
In addition to heavier vehicles, higher-priced luxury cars offer the most protection to the passengers riding inside them, according to Pete Leiss, head of the crash practice at Lancaster, Pa.-based Robson Forensic. "We see a lot fewer injuries when you start talking about European luxury cars," he says.
"That group of vehicles typically includes those to which newer safety features are first applied. That goes back to the introduction of air bags and encompasses the major safety developments since the 1980s, including electronic stability control, pre-tensioned seatbelts, forward collision warnings and also basics like strong safety cages around the vehicle's occupants."
The most injuries
Vehicles associated with the greatest number of injuries are in general compact cars and midsize cars, sometimes referred to as C and D Class cars.
With these C and D Class automobiles, "there's a lot more pressure on price, and thinner profit margins," Leiss says. "Unfortunately, the result is it becomes more difficult to make the business case that they will have the side airbags you see in larger vehicles. Safety takes a backseat to profits."
The one surprise for Leiss on the worst cars for preventing injuries list is the Toyota Camry. "The Camry is one of the best-selling vehicles in the overall vehicle market, typically No. 1 or 2 in sales of sedans," Leiss says.
The more hopeful news for those preferring small vehicles is that the once yawning gap between large and small vehicle safety features has closed dramatically in recent years, according to Leiss.
Here are the best vehicles for protecting passengers from injuries:
1. Ford F-350
2. GMC Sierra 2500
3. Porsche Cayenne
4. Ford F-250
5. GMC Yukon
6. Volvo XC90
7. Ram 1500
8. Chevrolet Silverado
9. Cadillac Escalade
10. BMW X1
The worst vehicles for protecting passengers from injuries:
1. Toyota Yaris
2. Fiat 500
3. Toyota Corolla
4. Mitsubishi Lancer
5. Nissan Versa
6. Kia Forte
7. Nissan Altima
8. Ford Focus
9. Chevrolet Spark
10. Toyota Camry
[Related video: Top 5 ways Volvo saved your life today]