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.
Last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced that, beginning in 2014, all cars sold in the U.S. will be required to have rearview cameras. The goal... read more June 18, 2013 by Richard Read
The federal government has opened an investigation into front airbags that are unexpectedly deploying, in 2003 and 2004 Honda Odyssey minivans. The issue could affect about... read more June 10, 2013 by Bengt Halvorson
Do some model years of the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Liberty pose a higher fire risk to their occupants in a crash? And is it because of a safety-related defect? The... read more June 4, 2013 by Bengt Halvorson 1
The good news is that our cars are safer than they've ever been. Improvements in vehicle structure and the addition of countless safety features have led to record-low... read more May 30, 2013 by Richard Read 1
Ever wonder what goes on during car crash tests? In a new eight-part video series produced by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), viewers can see footage of... read more May 22, 2013 by Suzanne Kane
The mid-size 2013 Ford Fusion lineup boasts an additional entry in the top safety ratings arena as the 2013 Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid earns a five-star safety rating... read more May 22, 2013 by Suzanne Kane
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has run a group of 13 small sport-utility vehicles or crossovers through its relatively new small-overlap frontal crash... read more May 15, 2013 by Bengt Halvorson
Every auto brand has an image to uphold, a claim to fame. Jeeps are rugged, Mercedes-Benz cars are long-lasting, Hondas are reliable -- or so marketers would have us believe... read more May 13, 2013 by Richard Read 2
U.S. drivers may have felt safer than ever on the road in 2012, thanks to ever-better vehicle protection. Yet the number of people killed on U.S. highways took an alarming... read more May 3, 2013 by Bengt Halvorson 1
If you keep up with car news -- and since you're here, there's a good chance you do -- you noticed plenty of recalls over the last few months. Within the past two weeks... read more April 29, 2013 by Richard Read
A massive worldwide recall of some 3.4 million vehicles built between 2000 and 2004 for a defective airbag that could catch fire or injure passengers affects at least 1.4... read more April 15, 2013 by Suzanne Kane
In an effort to provide more relevant and useful vehicle safety ratings for specific audiences, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is proposing two... read more April 9, 2013 by Suzanne Kane
Safety regulators have begun a preliminary evaluation of rust affecting some 393,000 Hyundai Sonata mid-size cars from the 2006 through 2008 model years. This action by the... read more April 2, 2013 by Suzanne Kane
Every so often, a politician or advocacy group floats the idea of instituting driver's tests for older drivers. Such ideas have never gained much traction. Maybe that's... read more April 1, 2013 by Richard Read
In the wee hours of June 29, 1967, Jayne Mansfield was being driven to New Orleans in a 1966 Buick Electra. She was sitting up front with her driver and her lover, while her... read more March 15, 2013 by Richard Read 2