Columns

2010.09.01 Smart car, stupid man

on . Posted in By The Way

Smart car,

stupid man

By DAVID GREEN

When my wife and I were returning from the north country a couple of weekends ago, we were passed by a Smart car.

Passed!

Colleen said something about how nuts it was to see this little thing about a quarter the size of our vehicle zipping past us. She was thinking in terms of the danger of driving one of those little things that fast.

I was thinking how nuts it was that they could go that fast. I had a false impression that they were “city cars” and couldn’t go anywhere close to 75 miles an hour. How wrong I was.

The standard Smart car has an electronically-limited top speed of 90 mph., so there’s a little bit to spare.

But is it safe? Getting into a Smart car is described as putting on a suit of armor. You’re entering a steel cage with surprisingly good safety ratings.

There’s an interesting YouTube video of a Smart car running into a concrete wall, just to see what would happen. The cage worked quite well, although the commentator mentions that any people in the vehicle probably wouldn’t have survived the impact. I wonder how passengers fare in other vehicles when hitting concrete at 70 mph?

I read a report of a man walking away from his crashed Smart car after a highway accident. I’ve seen a photo that allegedly shows a Smart car crushed betwixt two trucks. Smart car owners quickly responded by pointing out that it obviously wasn’t a Smart car if you look closely at the little bit of car showing.

Here’s a quote from a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety:

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.

OK, bigger and heavier is better, but consider the Smart car vs. riding on a motorcycle at 75 mph.

The standard model sells for $11,990, and that’s with manual window controls. For $2,000 more, it’s pretty much equipped with everything you might want.

Those two women heading back to Indiana were getting about 40 miles per gallon when they passed us. Well, maybe not at that speed, but I won’t even mention what we were getting.

By the way, I read there might be a problem with wind out on the open road, but as writer Patricia Marx points out, in a collision with a disabled kite, the Smart is sure to win.

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When perusing old issues of the Observer for Morenci Through the Decades tidbits, I noticed a column from 1990 about spitting.

Spitting was on my mind that day because I had watched a friend of Ben’s spit up into the air, then try to move out of the way before it came back down. He failed; it got him right in the eye and on the forehead.

I wondered if it were really possible to accomplish, but I wanted to design a safe research project—safe from my vantage point.

Ben was first. He had trouble at the beginning of the study. He was getting a forward arc to the spit and running into it. He soon learned through experience, tilted his head back perpendicular, spit and moved. Like any healthy second grader, I suppose, he could clear it.

For a four-year-old it was a different matter. I don’t think Rosanna had sufficient coordination yet and she was getting rather damp when I called off the research.

Actually I didn’t call it off completely. I needed to know if a middle-aged man in relatively good condition could perform this act.

I went into the back yard, looked around for any neighbors in view, spit and got out of the way.

It’s now 20 years later. I’m more than middle aged, I’m not in the same physical condition, but I’m still curious and maybe still a little stupid.

This time I don’t trust the back yard as my research platform. I’m going into the privacy of my garage to see if I still have what it takes.

I’ll be right back.

I don’t know what I was worried about. It was easy. I even repeated the experiment three times with different methods of spitting.

What we do for science.

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