The 1989 Mercury Topaz sedan approached the busy intersection of Highway 22X and Deerfoot Trail in Calgary one Friday night last December. Two cars just ahead of it safely made a lefthand turn. When the 18-year-old driver of the Topaz tried to round the corner by cutting in front of oncoming traffic, a full-size pickup truck slammed into the front passenger door. Outweighing the sedan by several hundred kilograms, the pickup ripped the car apart like a can opener. The drivers of both vehicles escaped with minor injuries, but the car’s passenger died. “Would the car have opened up to the same degree if it had been struck by a vehicle approximately the same size?” asks Sgt. Rod Davis, an accident investigator with the Calgary Police Service. “Probably not.”
Little wonder that some people single out big pickups and sport-utility vehicles as a road-safety risk for anyone driving something smaller. Manufacturers acknowledge the problem, but also say it has long been known that larger vehicles provide more protection for their occupants. In pursuit of more data, Transport Canada launched a three-year study in April, 1997, with researchers from the University of New Brunswick. The researchers are investigating damage and injuries in 100 collisions to determine whether safety standards for either light trucks or cars need improving. “We recognize that there is a greater risk for the occupants in the lighter-weight vehicle,” says Brian Jonah, director of motor vehicle standards and research at Transport Canada.
With 28 years of investigating accidents behind him, Davis
knows that all too well. “There are too many different designs of vehicles on the road and there’s too great a span of vintage and technology,” Davis says. “The only thing you can do is practise good defensive driving.” Many concerned car drivers will undoubtedly heed that advice. Others will simply trade in their cars for a truck.
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