A new poll by J.D. Power and Associates consulting firm shows that American new car buyers are increasingly turning to vehicles with smaller, better engines than the fuel burning ‘big cars’ of yesteryear. This is the biggest switch in buying habits since they began taking this annual poll nearly 15 years ago.

The switch to smaller cars is spurred by rising fuel prices, surely. The average price for a gallon gasoline has been above $3.25 for more than a year forcing drivers to think twice before committing to a vehicle which guzzles gasoline. Now, gasoline prices prices have been rising for decades so it wasn’t just the price of gas which forced the switch. It was something else.

The “something else” which gradually forced a change in buying habits was the increased safety of small cars. Defensive drivers understand that the vehicle they are driving has almost as much to do with the level of their safety as their driving habits. Vehicles today come with a host of advanced safety features such as anti-lock brakes, front, rear and side curtain airbags; traction control, crumple zones and countless other devices. These small vehicles regularly score a five-star safety rating and are among the safest vehicles on the roads today. You just don’t need to drive a tank to be safe on the road these days. An economical, fuel efficient, small car will do just fine.

As more Americans turn to smaller cars with smaller more efficient engines, even more Americans will get on board with the idea that small is beautiful. The “Jones’ Effect”; the idea that you need to keep up with your neighbors, will soon begin convincing everyone they “need” a small car, so it is likely that even more small cars will begin emerging on the roads as the years go by.

Eventually we might all be driving small cars and only cargo delivery services will be driving trucks.