Car Safety Features: What You Need to Know

With nearly 300 million registered vehicles in the United States, road safety is critical. Thankfully, efforts to keep drivers safe have been producing results. The NHTSA reported that traffic deaths dropped 2% from 2018 to 2019. Alcohol-related traffic fatalities are also down, as low today as they were in 1982, despite the far greater number of drivers on the road today.

Car Safety Features: What You Need to Know
Based upon data aggregated from multiple reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

However, even as the rate of traffic deaths go down, over 36,000 traffic fatalities were reported in 2019. There is still a lot of work to be done to increase the safety of our roads. 

The good news is that cars today are much safer, even when compared with vehicles from a couple decades ago. Airbags, for example, only became a requirement in 1998. But back then, most cars came with just one airbag. Today, the average new car comes with six airbags

In general, car design, construction, and technology have improved year after year. If you are in the market for a new car, you might be lost with the many safety features available to you across different car brands and models. Read below to learn about some of the key safety features you should consider when buying a car. 

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded more than fifty 2021 model-year cars their Top Safety Pick.

In 2021, the IIHS awarded more Top Safety Picks than ever before. The IIHS tests vehicles’ crashworthiness, crash avoidance, and crash mitigation. 

Crashworthiness tests a vehicle’s ability to protect an occupant in the event of a crash. The IIHS releases most crash test results on their YouTube channel. Here is their test of a 2021 Ford Mustang.

Crash avoidance and mitigation test the on-board active safety systems, such as lane-keep assist. 

The tested vehicles are graded on a scale of Good to Poor for crashworthiness and from Superior to Basic for crash avoidance and crash mitigation systems. The top vehicles generally achieve grades of Good and Superior across most test categories.

If you are in the market for a new car, the IIHS is the best resource for finding car safety ratings.

Active safety systems can help prevent a crash.

Today, nearly all vehicles from all brands are equipped with some type of crash avoidance or mitigation system. Many of these systems even come standard on base level cars, though buyers often have to pay a premium for features like 360° surround view. 

Here is a breakdown of some common active safety features and how they are intended to work:

Lane-Keep Assist: Lane-keep assist makes small adjustments to ensure the car stays in the correct lane. Some cars make a noise or emit a light on the dash to alert the driver of system activation, whereas other vehicles make minor adjustments to the car’s orientation without warning. 

Lane-Departure Warning: Unlike lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning does not make minor adjustments. Cars equipped with this system will only make a noise or emit a light on the dash to alert the driver to steer the car within the lane. 

Automated Emergency Braking: Using cameras and/or radar, automating emergency braking stops the vehicle automatically before a driver can press the brake themselves. These systems work by measuring the distance of cars ahead. The system will stop the car automatically once the car is too close to the rear of another vehicle. 

Pedestrian Detection: This system will detect pedestrians through the use of cameras and/or radar. Some cars equipped with this system will brake automatically, while other cars with it will simply alert the driver. 

Blind Spot Monitoring: Sensors equipped in the rear of the vehicle monitor adjacent lanes for traffic that the driver cannot see in their mirror. Most cars with this feature have a warning light that illuminates on the exterior mirror, clearly visible from the driver seat. 

360° Surround View: 360° surround view provides a 360° picture around the outside of the car. Used mainly when parking, the view is displayed on the infotainment screen. Multiple cameras positioned around the car generate the image. 

Keep in mind that not all new cars come with the above features, and every automaker uses their own in-house system. For instance, Honda’s lane-keep assist may be more sensitive to its surroundings than Toyota’s lane-keep assist. Get in touch with the auto dealer directly if you have more questions.

Autonomous driving is one of the most talked about new car features, but we can’t take our hands off the wheel quite yet.

Most people think of Tesla when it comes to self-driving cars. Indeed, Tesla was one of the first automakers to bring semi-autonomous driving to the market. But Tesla Autopilot—like Nissan ProPilot Assist and Volvo Pilot Assist—does not turn the car into a fully autonomous vehicle. 

These systems are capable of semi-autonomy, meaning the car can steer itself, maintain speed, and brake automatically, even on the highway. Some semi-autonomous cars can switch lanes on their own, too. But they can be limited in inclement weather, like rain or snow. And reports of poor real-world performance are somewhat common. To date, no auto manufacturer has released a fully-autonomous car. 

In terms of vehicle and road safety, the IIHS warns that full self-driving cars might not reduce total traffic accidents.

Driver mistakes play a role in virtually all crashes. That’s why automation has been held up as a potential game changer for safety. But autonomous vehicles might prevent only around a third of all crashes if automated systems drive too much like people.

The Institute’s analysis suggests that only about a third of [all crashes] were the result of mistakes that automated vehicles would be expected to avoid simply because they have more accurate perception than human drivers and aren’t vulnerable to incapacitation.

In other words, automakers have yet to develop self-driving technology that is significantly better at driving than the average human. 

New cars are safer, and now come equipped with safety features that did not exist even a few years ago.

Car safety has come a long way. Driven by advanced engineering, research, and years of crash test data, newer cars are built better and have more safety features than those from years past. 

Look no further than the IIHS’ crash test comparison of a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air and a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu. This comparison is a dramatic example of just how much vehicle safety has improved. 

As you shop for a new car, consult the IIHS safety ratings. With fifty cars earning the 2021 Top Safety Pick, you’ll have dozens of cars to choose from if safety is your main priority.

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