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.
Just a week after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) listed a recall for the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic over concerns about a missing front brake pad, the... read more January 4, 2012 by Suzanne Kane
With every New Year’s Day come the inevitable resolutions that many of us never quite get around to carrying out. As parents and drivers, however, there are five areas... read more January 4, 2012 by Suzanne Kane
We may already be three days into 2012, but the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says it's not too late for drivers to make a few New Year's resolutions. Based on research... read more January 3, 2012 by Richard Read
No matter what brand of vehicle you have, chances are it is—or will be—affected by some sort of recall. Recalls, while a necessity for safety, mean lost time and... read more December 30, 2011 by Bengt Halvorson
Earlier this month, we told you that the U.S. traffic fatality rate for 2010 was the lowest in recorded history. All told, there were 32,885 deaths on American roads that... read more December 27, 2011 by Richard Read
General Motors is recalling certain 2010-2011 model year Cadillac SRX crossover vehicles over concerns about a transmission defect that may allow parked vehicles to move. A... read more December 23, 2011 by Suzanne Kane
Nissan is recalling four Nissan and two Infiniti models over concerns about a potential oil leak issue, which could lead to a crash. A notice on the National Highway Traffic... read more December 23, 2011 by Suzanne Kane
Here at Family Car Guide, we try to bring you as much detail as possible on the safety and comfort features of new vehicles. One detail we omit is the vehicle’s... read more December 21, 2011 by Kurt Ernst 1
When you spend all day driving Frito-Lay trucks, it's probably hard not to daydream about what it might be like to have something far more nimble, attractive, and valuable to... read more December 20, 2011 by Nelson Ireson 2
In the all-important safety arena, getting high crash test marks from the two major safety rating organizations, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)... read more December 19, 2011 by Suzanne Kane
Nissan is recalling certain 2011 Nissan Juke compact cars over concerns that they could stall without warning. A notice on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration... read more December 16, 2011 by Suzanne Kane
With the record number of 115 vehicles winning 2012 Top Safety Pick status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), there’s good news for consumers and... read more December 15, 2011 by Suzanne Kane
With all the recent emphasis on driver distraction and the dangers of hand-held cell phones and texting by drivers behind the wheel, the recommendation Tuesday by the... read more December 15, 2011 by Suzanne Kane
Not too long ago, safety ratings were details that only the most meticulous (and safety-minded) new-car shoppers paid attention to. But today, shoppers expect top safety as a... read more December 14, 2011 by Bengt Halvorson
Volkswagen, the parent company of Audi, is recalling certain 2012 Audi A6 luxury sedans for a defect in the head-curtain airbag. A notice on the National Highway Traffic... read more December 14, 2011 by Suzanne Kane