Smart ForTwo Passes NHTSA Crash Test With Stars and an Asterisk

By Chris Haak

04.04.2008

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) just completed its first crash tests of the diminuitive Smart ForTwo minicar. The good news for Smart is that the car received four stars for driver frontal protection and three stars for passenger front impact protection. The ForTwo also received the top five star rating for side impacts.

The problem is that the driver’s door unlatched and opened during the side impact test. Although the belted dummy still survived the crash with relatively minor injuries (thus earning the five star rating), the agency raised “concerns” about the safety implications of a door opening during impact.

Smart expected the vehicle to earn a four star rating from US regulators; it appears that, other than the door latch problem, they exceeded expectations in the side impact test and didn’t quite meet them in protecting the passenger from a frontal impact. Smart did not immediately have any comments or rebuttals posted on their media website, but I would certainly expect the company to investigate the door latch issue and redesign the part, then request a re-test.

Crash test results from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for the Smart ForTwo have not yet been released; they are expected to be later this month. IIHS tests are generally more difficult than NHTSA tests to pass, as IIHS tests frontal offset crashes where only part of the car’s front end hits the solid barrier, which significantly increases crash forces to the part of the car that strikes the barrier. It’s easier for cars to absorb a frontal impact that hits the entire front end and spreads crash energy across more of the crash structure.

The “concern” from the NHTSA (plus the three star front passenger rating) are something of a blow to Smart, because the company has very aggressively played up the ForTwo’s safety features, primarily to allay concerns that US buyers may have about driving an 8 foot, 8 inch long vehicle weighing only 1,800 pounds on US highways where the average vehicle is nearly twice as heavy (and in many cases is three times heavier or more). In fact, every Smart showroom has a tridion safety cage from a Smart ForTwo on display to show just how such a small car has the ability to protect occupants and dissipate crash energy. For those reasons, my guess is that Smart will respond to this news quickly, but frankly I’m surprised that their PR department has been silent so far.

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Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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5 Comments

  1. THe door opening is worrisome, but a five-star rating is very impressive for a car like this. Of course, the problem in the U.S. is the basic physics of a crash with another vehicle, i.e., there are a lot of 6000 lb. trucks and SUVs on the road driven as personal vehicles, and 6000 lbs. going at 60 mph would create a lot of damage to a small car like this.

  2. friendly science, what you say is correct and the death-mobile SUV is a menace to anyone in a regular-size car. And it will be for years to ocme, until their numbers slowly decrease due to a combination of being taken off the roads due to old age and the fact that a lot less people will be buying them in the future.

    What a stupid fad that was, the whole SUV thing!

  3. IF it is a fad, it isn’t over yet cause everybody’s still selling them and plenty of people are still buying them because they fugure they make up for the gas costs by the rebates on the new SUV.

  4. One thing to keep in mind about the star ratings is that they assume an impact with a car of similar mass. So in Smart vs. Suburban, Smart’s five stars for side impact might still be deadly.

  5. How about buying a Honda Fit for about the same price, get more room, better safety, and better fuel economy?

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