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Suzy loved her compact car. It was easy to maintain, efficient, and very maneuverable. It was small, like her. She could settle into the driver's seat and feel the little car almost wrap around her.

She felt in total control. When she hit the ice patch that winter morning, she lost control, however. The car turned over, rolled three times and pinned Suzy into the steering wheel, inflicting fatal injuries on the young woman.

The strengths of her little car had become its greatest weakness.

There are many reasons people buy small cars. For all their advantages, however, small cars generally absorb more force in a collision than a heavier car. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, people in small cars are injured more often and more severely than those in larger vehicles.

Still, like Suzy, many of us maintain our love affairs with our small cars. The challenge for drivers is to make up in safety awareness what their vehicle may lack in size and weight.

See And Be Seen

In a small car, you are up to nine inches lower than the driver of a large car. Barriers, medians, curbs, guard rails, and roadway obstacles may make it harder for the drivers of small cars to see and be seen.

Most accidents involving small cars actually occur because drivers of large vehicles have trouble seeing the small car. Here are a few suggestions to help you compensate for your disadvantage:

* Realize that because you are closer to the ground, your range of vision is limited. You will also catch more glare off the road at night and in wet weather.

* Exert caution and respect for those things you cannot see. If your vision is restricted in any way, slow down!

* Leave a "cushion of space" between you and other vehicles. Your purpose is to defend yourself from the dangers around you.

* Drive with your lights on during the daylight hours, especially in inclement weather.

* Do not ride alongside or behind larger vehicles. You are likely to fall into their blind spot.

* Try to keep your car where it is visible in the rear view mirror of cars ahead of you.

* Keep in mind that dark colors, such as black, dark green, or brown, are less visible than bright colors.

* If you think a larger vehicle does not see you, flash your headlights on and off, or honk your horn.

You Win With Defense

* When purchasing a car, pay special attention to safety features.

* Always wear your safety belt. According to the National Safety Council, lap and shoulder belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to front seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent, and reduce the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50 percent.

* Do not drive aggressively. Resist the temptation to weave or slip through tight spaces, even if you think you can.

* Sudden changes of wind can greatly affect control of a small car. Such changes can occur when passing or being passed by larger vehicles, or when driving on stretches of highway open to wind gusts. Grip the steering wheel at 9 and 3 o'clock and move to the far side of your lane, away from the larger vehicle. This applies to windy conditions as well.

* Use the side and rear view mirrors constantly. Know what is behind, beside, and ahead of your car at all times.

Highway Tips

Most small cars do not have the engine power of large vehicles, and most highways in the United States have been engineered for larger cars. With that in mind:

* Small cars must accelerate rapidly on the entrance ramp to a highway. Don't wait until you reach the expressway.

* For that same reason, allow plenty of distance and time when passing a vehicle, or merging.

Author : John Myre