The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) announced the results of its Smart Fortwo crash tests today. The car earned a good rating (the highest score) in both the 40 mph frontal offset test into a stationary deformable barrier and the side-impact test where the driver's side of the car is hit by a simulated pickup or SUV moving at 31 mph. In the test for rear crash protection, the seat/head restraints of the car earned the second highest rating of Acceptable.
However as Adrian Lund, president of the Institute stated, "All things being equal in safety, bigger and heavier is always better. But among the smallest cars, the engineers of the Smart did their homework and designed a high level of safety into a very small package." The Institute's test results generally show how well vehicles compare against others of similar size and weight. Frontal ratings can't be compared across weight classes, which means a small car that earns a good rating isn't necessarily safer on the road than a large car that's not rated as highly in the test.
The Smart has a very short "crumple zone" ahead of the occupant compartment, which means the seat belts and airbags must take a bigger share of the load in protecting the driver and passenger in a frontal crash. In fact, the head of the driver dummy hit the steering wheel through the airbag with enough force to indicate the possibility of head injury.
In the side-impact test, all forces recorded on the driver dummy were low, indicating little risk of injury. The car has standard head/torso side airbags, which pop out of the seat during severe side impacts to cushion the head and chest. However, just as in the NHTSA side impact test, the driver door unlatched, posing the risk of partial or complete occupant ejection, especially if the seat belt isn't used. The structure was therefore downgraded to an acceptable rating.