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.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has awarded the 2014 Mercedes M-Class mid-size luxury SUV the highest designation of Top Safety Pick+. The Mercedes M-Class... read more October 8, 2013 by Suzanne Kane
The all-new 2014 Toyota Corolla manages to transcend its econo-car roots to some degree—giving us a number of reasons (like a better feature set and much-improved... read more October 4, 2013 by Bengt Halvorson
The EyeSight system that's offered in the new 2014 Subaru Outback and Legacy might entirely keep you, in a moment of inattention, from rear-ending another car. In a new... read more September 26, 2013 by Bengt Halvorson
The Department of Transportation (DOT) is the target of a lawsuit filed today in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, by safety advocates and two... read more September 25, 2013 by Suzanne Kane
The redesigned three-row, seven-passenger 2014 Kia Sorento crossover has earned a five-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The NHTSA... read more September 24, 2013 by Suzanne Kane
The redesigned 2014 Lexus IS has earned a five-star overall crash rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The five-star overall award includes... read more September 7, 2013 by Suzanne Kane
For better or worse, automakers and suppliers are getting inventive, pushing some innovative features into new vehicles. Some of them hit the mark, making our time in... read more September 4, 2013 by Bengt Halvorson 7
Some of the best ideas need no explanation, and many are relatively simple—things that make you ask, why didn't anyone come up with this before? That’s probably... read more September 3, 2013 by Bengt Halvorson 12
Hot on the heels of last week's announcement that Nissan would bring autonomous cars to showrooms within seven years comes word from General Motors that it plans to offer its... read more September 3, 2013 by Richard Read
Good news for family car buyers who need a little more space to transport people and gear: the 2014 Honda Odyssey just earned the Top Safety Pick+ designation from the... read more August 28, 2013 by Suzanne Kane
Safety sells. We know that wasn't always the case; but in today's market, the majority of new-car shoppers do value how well a car will protect them in a crash—or how... read more August 26, 2013 by Bengt Halvorson 1
Jeep's Grand Cherokee nameplate has been drawing lots of media attention lately -- not all of it good. The Grand Cherokee found itself at the center of a contentious recall... read more August 26, 2013 by Richard Read
Yesterday, we told you about the Tesla Model S -- a car so safe, it broke the equipment that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration uses to gauge safety. General... read more August 21, 2013 by Richard Read
If you're in the market for a new car and safety is your biggest concern, stop reading here and head down to the nearest Tesla (NSDQ:TSLA) showroom gallery for a look at the... read more August 20, 2013 by Richard Read 2
Not sure which small-car model is best for you? If safety is one of your priorities you might want to give the Honda Civic, or perhaps the Dodge Dart, a boost on your list of... read more August 7, 2013 by Bengt Halvorson 2