Small cars can be major money savers, trimming gas bills by 50% or more compared with full-size sedans and SUVs. However, small cars also tend to be riskier than larger vehicles, with fatality rates more than twice as high as those of gas guzzlers. To make small-car driving as safe as possible…

  • Select the safest small car. When buying a car, look for…
  • Side-impact air bags. These greatly improve your odds of survival if your small car is hit on the side.

    Electronic stability control. This computerized safety system detects when your vehicle is skidding and helps you get the vehicle under control quickly.

    High scores in crash tests. Crash-test ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are available at www.safercar.gov. Ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) can be found at www.iihs.org/ratings.

    Bright color. Select a brightly colored car — red and yellow are particularly visible. Avoid black, silver and gray.

  • Turn on your headlights during the day to increase visibility. If your car doesn’t have daytime running lights (low-beam headlights that turn on when the car does), put on the headlights.
  • Wait a bit before entering intersections when the light turns green. A driver in a larger vehicle could be barreling through the other way trying to beat the red light.
  • Avoid driving in packs with larger vehicles. When possible, drop back or speed up slightly to create a bubble of open space around you. If a vehicle is tailgating you, look for an opportunity to pull aside and let it pass.
  • Think ahead. Consider in advance what you would do if a vehicle fails to notice you and pulls into your path. Preselect an “emergency escape,” an open area into which you could safely maneuver. Wide shoulders usually make the best emergency escapes, so it’s usually safest to drive in a lane adjacent to a shoulder.
  • Learn your car’s capabilities. Your small car probably can stop and swerve more quickly than larger vehicles. That maneuverability can help you stay out of collisions if you know what your car is capable of before an emergency occurs. Take your small car to an empty parking lot, and practice hard stops and sharp swerves.