Car Safety a Concern for All Ages

Ricky Lasser takes the family’s Toyota RAV4 to and from the University of Maryland, where he is a sophomore. (David Stuck)
Ricky Lasser takes the family’s Toyota RAV4 to and from the University of Maryland, where he is a sophomore.
(David Stuck)

Mandee and Steven Heinl were engaged in February 2011. As part of the planning for their June 2012 wedding, they went car shopping.

“We knew we wanted a family, and [we knew that] we were going to have this car when we started our family,” said Mandee of the 2012 Acura RDX they purchased in December 2011.

The pair had conducted quite a bit of research, studying crash, side-impact and front-impact ratings.

“Side-impact ratings were really important,” said Mandee. “That’s right where the baby sits.”

The Heinls, who welcomed son Samuel Martin on July 30, also wanted a car with side airbags for added protection, and they wanted something “bigger.”

“Car accidents in a tiny car with a baby in the car — the odds aren’t as good as if you’re in a bigger car that sits a little higher and has more substance to it,” she said. “When you look at an 18-wheeler next to a small car, it could go right under it.”

All cars on the market meet government and insurance industry standards for safety, according to C. Matt Fields, senior communications counsel for Consumer Reports. Yet, some rate higher than others in terms of reliability, safety and price.

According to Consumer Reports, a vehicle with good braking and emergency handling can help avoid an accident. Typically smaller, sportier vehicles perform well in these tests, and larger trucks are slower to maneuver. February 2013 Best Safety Performance Ratings by Consumer Reports ranked the top vehicles for dry braking at 60 mph as the Porsche Boxster, the Mercedes-Benz SLK250 and the Porsche Panamera S. The highest-rated cars for avoidance maneuvers, which help judge how capable a vehicle is when a driver is trying to steer around an obstacle at higher speeds, are the BMW 135i, the Mazda MX-5 Grand Touring and the Nissan 370Z Touring vehicles.

U.S. News & World Report rated the Honda CR-V as best compact SUV for families in its 2013 survey.

“While some competing SUVs offer more power, the 2013 Honda CR-V shines with nimble handling, a roomy interior and a standard rearview camera,” the study summary states.

Other cars touted were the Chevrolet Equinox and the Ford Escape.

Caryn Lasser began her research months before she purchased a new car to be shared by two of her sons. Phil, a graduate student at George Washington University, and Ricky, a sophomore at the University of Maryland, began driving by sharing the family Honda Odyssey. Last December, after multiple repairs culminated in the need for a new transmission, they began the hunt for something else.

A hand-me-down from their grandparents netted the young men a Lincoln Town Car. But a routine oil check and tuneup in early summer revealed issues that needed repair. Both worked for the summer at Camp Airy, and they borrowed their dad’s Toyota 4Runner for trips back and forth.

Caryn and her husband, Mike, researched the Toyota RAV4, the Honda CR-V and other vehicles to be an upgrade for their sons to use for trips to and from camp, school and home. The Lassers combed through Consumer Reports magazines, attended the International Auto Show and scoured online sites for safety records, air-bag ratings, crash-test results and maintenance records.

They found a dealer in Virginia with more than 40 certified pre-owned RAV4 vehicles in stock. A 2010 had come off lease and had just 13,000 miles on the odometer.

“We wanted something decent in the snow, and we knew the need was there to be able to transport belongings to and from camp and to and from college,” said Caryn of the decision to go with an SUV. “It sits a little higher and has better visibility for the driver, and it’s a little sturdier than a regular sedan.”

The crash-test ratings and reliability rankings gives Caryn a “peace of mind” that the car would not break down in an unsafe area.

“I don’t want the kids stranded if there’s an emergency breakdown anywhere at night,” she said. “If it didn’t crash test well, even with the reliability, we wouldn’t have considered it.”

Linda Esterson is an area freelancer writer.

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