The subject is generally grouped into two areas: active safety and passive safety. Active safety refers to features or attributes that might allow you to avoid an accident; passive safety refers to features or attributes that help protect occupants during (or right after) a crash.
In the scope of automotive history, the focus on safety is a relatively recent one. Fifty years ago, relatively minor accidents could leave occupants mortally wounded; and even a decade ago, occupant safety wasn’t nearly the priority that it is for today’s new-car shoppers.
In the U.S., crash-test programs have driven occupant protection rapidly since the 1990s. While the federal New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) has overseen crash-testing of vehicles since 1979, the insurance-funded Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has also been crucial. It began crash-testing and rating new vehicles in 1995. Since then it’s added side impact, rear impact (seat), and roof strength tests, as well as a new small-overlap frontal test. In order to provide more useful information for shoppers, the NCAP tests and ratings were revised in 2010.
Frontal-impact occupant airbags were first introduced in the 1970s, but they didn’t become widely offered in luxury cars until the 1980s and most mass-market models until the 1990s (they were required by 1998). Side-impact airbags were introduced in luxury cars in the 1990s, then made it into most mass-market models by the middle of this past decade; they were required by 2009, with a later phase-in of head-protecting airbags.
Electronic stability control has been another critical life-saving feature—especially in reducing the number of rollover-related fatalities. And in more recent years, a host of active technologies—ranging from lane-departure systems to blind-spot systems to those that help warn if you’re drowsy—have added to driver safety. Some even help brake the vehicle or nudge it back on course.
In this age of more rakish designs—and with a much wider range of vehicle sizes, shapes, and packages than in the past—outward visibility has become an important issue. In some vehicles, camera systems help make up for this in parking, although visibility still might make lane changes more difficult. Additionally, the way in which a vehicle steers, brakes, and even accelerates can play a role in safety, as well as how it rides over certain road surfaces.
Driver distraction remains one of the top safety issues of the day, which has led to much debate over whether advanced vehicle interfaces that allow easier, integrated hands-free communication increase or decrease overall safety.
In the future, so-called driverless car projects could permit enhanced safety by essentially automating the act of driving while in gridlock or on a commute.
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General Motors is recalling certain 2012 model year Chevrolet Suburban HD full-size SUVs and Express vans and certain 2012 model year GMC Yukon XL HD full-size SUVs and... read more March 26, 2012 by Suzanne Kane
Texting and driving is bad: you know it, we know it, Ray LaHood knows it. But texting while parked isn't always such a great idea, either -- especially in crowded urban... read more March 26, 2012 by Richard Read 1
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The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's highest rating, the Top Safety Pick designation, is a highly sought-after recognition of crash-test safety--it's only awarded to... read more March 20, 2012 by Nelson Ireson
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has just named the all-new 2013 Mazda CX-5 compact crossover a Top Safety Pick. An all-new model for 2013, the CX-5 won the top... read more March 20, 2012 by Suzanne Kane
Hyundai is recalling certain 2011-2012 model year Sonata Hybrid sedans for potentially faulty center rear seatbelts. A notice on the National Highway Traffic Safety... read more March 19, 2012 by Suzanne Kane
Once only found on luxury models from the likes of Mercedes-Benz and Volvo, advanced active safety technology is quickly finding its way into more mainstream vehicles. The... read more March 19, 2012 by Suzanne Kane
Volvo is conducting a voluntary safety recall of certain 2012 model year Volvo S60 sedans and XC60 crossovers over concerns about excessive underbody coatings that could... read more March 18, 2012 by Suzanne Kane
Subaru is recalling certain 2009-2012 model year Forester SUVs over concerns about a defect in the automatic locking retractor in rear center seats. A notice on the National... read more March 16, 2012 by Suzanne Kane