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.
Domestic brands—like Chevy, Ford, GMC, Dodge, and others—aren’t making the cut for safety. So says the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), in the... read more December 9, 2015 by Bengt Halvorson
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The 2016 Hyundai Tucson has now joined the 2016 Hyundai Sonata in being able to claim top five-star federal safety ratings from the federal government. For the Tucson, they... read more November 2, 2015 by Bengt Halvorson
Safety-minded families now have one more reason to consider the much-improved 2015 Ford Edge: It’s achieved a batch of (mostly) top-tier crash-test ratings. In... read more September 22, 2015 by Bengt Halvorson
“Swedish safety” has become a bit of a tautology when it comes to vehicles. Whether you’re talking about Volvo, or its now defunct cross-country rival... read more September 19, 2015 by Bengt Halvorson
The federal government recently posted its safety ratings for the 2016 Nissan Maxima, and in New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) testing this fully redesigned sporty sedan... read more September 2, 2015 by Bengt Halvorson
The 2016 Honda HR-V has earned a five-star rating, overall, in federal New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) crash-testing. However its results aren’t quite top-tier. In... read more August 24, 2015 by Bengt Halvorson
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has released crash-test ratings for the 2016 Honda Pilot, and this spacious seven-passenger sport-utility vehicle is already... read more August 24, 2015 by Bengt Halvorson
The 2016 Volkswagen Golf hatchback models, the Golf SportWagen, and the Volkswagen Jetta sedans have all been placed in the top safety tier offered by the Insurance Institute... read more August 12, 2015 by Bengt Halvorson
Volvo Cars is preparing a recall for the 2016 Volvo XC90 crossover utility vehicle, for an issue that may prevent the side curtain airbags from functioning as intended. In... read more August 5, 2015 by Bengt Halvorson
The U.S. luxury-vehicle market is changing—and downsizing—rapidly; and the Audi Q3, the Mercedes-Benz GLA, and the upcoming, redesigned 2016 BMW X1 are some of... read more August 3, 2015 by Bengt Halvorson
The world is filled with two-lane highways that make overtaking vehicles difficult, if not downright dangerous. The situation gets worse when 18-wheelers are added to the... read more June 24, 2015 by Richard Read
Yes, we’re getting safer, and road deaths are falling (slightly), both in the U.S. and over a broad group of countries that are working together to improve safety. Yet... read more May 29, 2015 by Bengt Halvorson
Insurance companies gather a lot of information. Age, gender, the car you drive, your driving record, your zip code, and your credit rating (where it’s legal): It all... read more May 28, 2015 by Bengt Halvorson
Following an order from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the airbag manufacturer Takata has agreed to expand its recall of airbag... read more May 19, 2015 by Bengt Halvorson