One of the most effective methods of improving fuel-economy is reducing vehicle weight but the challenge for car designers is how to reduce weight while keeping costs down and safety standards up. Modern safety features such as passenger cells and complex airbag systems add significant weight to a vehicle but a new study claims carmakers can make lighter cars just as safe by removing bulky components and using more aluminum and composite materials.

The study, titled ‘Triple Safety’, was completed by researcher Laura Schewel of the Rocky Mountain Institute. Some of her findings run against the conventional thinking that bigger and heavier cars are safer to drive in than lighter vehicles, reports MarketWatch.

While size does play an important role, crush zones and structural features designed to absorb impacts are just as important. Lighter cars tend to experience a faster deceleration than heavier cars in two-car impacts, but this is only one of several factors in determining overall occupant safety. According to her findings, length and design are more important than weight.

Her conclusion was that a big, light car that was designed well could be safer in an impact than a conventional vehicle that was simply big and heavy. Of course, such a design is not always feasible, especially in a market as competitive as the auto industry.