GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Are those tiny Smart Cars enough car to keep passengers protected?
The Smart Car is produced by the makers of Mercedes-Benz. Engineers have poured a lot of money and technology into the tiny cars to make them safe -- but not everyone is convinced.
The passenger in a Smart Car was killed in a wreck on US-131 near the Allegan-Kalamazoo county line Monday. Investigators say the driver of the Smart Car had slowed to approach a construction zone on northbound US-131 Monday afternoon when it was rear-ended by a mini-van.
The impact drove the Smart Car into the back of another vehicle, basically sandwiching it in between. The driver of the Smart Car was injured and his passenger Sandra Norland, 68, was killed.
"We are looking at a lot of different factors and our reconstructionists will kind of piece that together," said Allegan County Sheriff's Department Lt. Frank Baker.
Those factors include the Smart Car's size.
"I'm sure physics are going to come into play in a crash like this when you have a larger vehicle striking a smaller vehicle," said Baker.
Randy Rand is a former accident investigator and now runs Jungle Survival Drivers Training in Kent County. He's skeptical of the Smart Car.
"I'm not a big fan of them," Rand said. "Even though they were built by Mercedes, I'm not a big fan. I'm just not."
Rand researched the Smart Car using safety data from the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety. He said the car's safety record has greatly improved from the 2008 version to now, but what he couldn't find were statistics on rear-end collisions.
"The rear end is the one I've been trying to find," he said.
The Smart Car website highlights cutting edge safety features, including a reinforced steel safety cage, crash management system, stability control and as many as eight air bags covering the front, top and sides.
But even the website doesn't mention much on rear-end collisions.
"If you look at the back end of that car, those seats are right against the back window of that car. If you got hit, you're right there. There's no way that car is safe from a rear-end collision," said Rand.
Rand even pointed out YouTube video of a Smart Car crushed like a can.
"The car was only two foot wide after the thing crushed into them," he said.
And in the snow and ice of a Michigan winter, Rand suspects the Smart car would spin out like a top.
"You don't see them in the winter," he said. "I think people park them."
The Monday US-131 crash is still under investigation. The driver that rear-ended the Smart Car was 86 years old, and while police haven't mentioned any impairment, they're looking into all possible factors.
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