Saving The Planet Vs Saving Lives: The Car Crash Risks Of Eco-friendly Cars

Last week the G-Wiz electric car, a common sight in inner areas of London, claimed its first victim.

Dr Judit Nadal, a 47 year old research scientist and leading academic, died when her tiny electric vehicle was involved in a car crash with a Skoda Octavia in Hendon, north-west London, last Monday afternoon. Photos show that the car was torn neatly in half. Dr Nadal was thrown clear of the car.

She was taken to the Royal London Hospital, but died at 8.21pm.

Concerns have been raised about the safety of the Indian-built eco-car in recent years, with Top Gear magazine being a vocal critic after a crash test at a mere 40mph demonstrated that it would inflict ‘life-threatening injuries’ on its occupants.

The fact that the G-Wiz is not technically a car, but rather a quadricycle, means that it is not legally subject to the same stringent road safety tests as full-sized passenger vehicles.
Its UK distributor, GoinGreen, say that they voluntarily perform their own tests on the car. This may be true, but the manner in which the little urban runabout snapped in half in Dr Nadal’s crash is undoubtedly a cause for alarm.

Greater risk of death in a crash

In 2007, the Transport Research Laboratory decided not to use their most expensive crash test dummies, worth around GBP130,000 each, when testing the G-Wiz because they were concerned that its flimsy build would result in them being annihilated.

Now government officials are calling for the cars to be banned, along with AA president Edmund King: “The G-Wiz is classified as quadricycle hence exempt from standard testing. It should be banned as it is unsafe.”

Costing under GBP10,000, the cars have become popular in the capital in recent years thanks to their compact size and exemption from the GBP8 congestion charge in central London. Their batteries can be topped up from a standard household socket, and above all, they are environmentally friendly, something that is becoming increasingly important in these eco-conscious times.

But saving the planet arguably shouldn’t take precedent over saving lives. Leading car designer Gordon Murray, who made his name penning championship-winning designs for Formula One teams Brabham and McLaren in the 1980s, and who gave us the McLaren F1 supercar, thinks that the UK should follow Japan’s lead and implement different accident regulations for city cars.

He told, “To date, the only government that’s taken urban cars seriously is Japan,” he said. “It has had the Kei car format for decades, which makes up [a substantial part] of the market in Japan.”

The EuroNCAP safety scheme, he argues, has been very successful but has resulted in cars that are dangerous in an urban environment. “For urban cars, we need a crumple zone that starts working at 15 to 20mph, not at 40mph.”

In September, Murray revealed the designs for his iStream T25, which is shorter than a Smart ForTwo, and yet can comfortably seat three people and is designed to pass full-size car crash safety regulations.

As we become more eco-aware, let’s make sure we don’t compromise on safety as well. Smaller cars shouldn’t mean bigger crashes.