Small Cars Make Safety Gains

(CBS/AP) Small cars, which have become more popular with the fluctuation in gas prices, are becoming better equipped to protect motorists in serious crashes, according to tests by the insurance industry.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave top scores on front-end crash tests for several 2009 small cars released Wednesday. Three vehicles - the Pontiac Vibe and Toyota Matrix, which share the same underpinnings and are considered corporate twins, and the Suzuki SX4 - also received top scores in side protection.

Only one vehicle tested, the 2009 Chrysler PT Cruiser, received the lowest mark of poor in side protection and rear protection.

Two other 2009 small cars, the Ford Focus and the Chevrolet HHR, got top marks in front-end tests and received the second-highest score of acceptable in side protection.

"Automakers have made big improvements to small cars to better protect people in frontal crashes," said Joe Nolan, an Institute senior vice president. "They've also added stronger structures and standard head-protecting side air bags to help in side crashes, which are tougher on smaller, lighter cars."