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.
If you won't settle for anything but five-star safety in your family vehicle, you now have another option: the 2014 Nissan Pathfinder. The Pathfinder was tested this past... read more January 17, 2014 by Bengt Halvorson
Toyota’s iconic hybrid, the Prius, has held quite a reputation for safety, as well as for efficiency and technology, of course. Yet new results from the federal... read more January 10, 2014 by Bengt Halvorson
The Volkswagen Jetta has earned a higher rating from the federal government. Thanks to an improved side-impact result, the 2014 Jetta now gets a five-star Overall rating... read more January 7, 2014 by Bengt Halvorson
To some folks, the holiday season ended last week. To others, the fun has just begun. In New Orleans, Venice, and elsewhere around the globe, Carnival season kicked off... read more January 7, 2014 by Richard Read
Back in August, Tesla [NASDAQ: TSLA] boasted that the Model S was so safe, it broke the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's testing equipment. In fact, Tesla was... read more December 26, 2013 by Richard Read
Back in July, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began a preliminary investigation of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. At the time, the agency had received 21... read more December 26, 2013 by Richard Read
The redesigned 2014 Kia Soul hatchback has earned a five-star overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA). The five-star rating is the... read more December 22, 2013 by Suzanne Kane
By now, most of the auto world's 2014 models have rolled into showrooms. They've also made appearances on test tracks and crash sets so that various entities can evaluate... read more December 19, 2013 by Richard Read
The 2014 Kia Sedona minivan has earned the coveted five-star overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The 2014 Sedona, mildly... read more December 16, 2013 by Suzanne Kane
Honda is recalling certain 2014 Acura MDX sport-utility vehicles equipped with all-wheel drive, for a potential problem involving loose bolts. A notice on the National... read more December 16, 2013 by Suzanne Kane
The 2014 Infiniti Q50 sports sedan has garnered another important accolade: a five-star overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)... read more December 14, 2013 by Suzanne Kane
We live in interesting times. Computers, smartphones, and other gadgets have made the world a smaller place, metaphorically speaking. Automobiles and airplanes allow us to... read more December 2, 2013 by Richard Read
The 2014 Ghibli is the first Maserati ever to be run through one of the major U.S. crash-test systems. And now in its first set of tests—from the Insurance Institute... read more November 26, 2013 by Bengt Halvorson
Over the summer, Tesla tried to create a new safety ratings system for its Model S sedan. In case you missed it, the automaker issued a press release that said: NHTSA does... read more November 21, 2013 by Richard Read
As of 2014, the Volvo XC90 crossover has been on the market for a dozen years; and its structure hasn't seen any extensive reengineering during that time. Yet the 2014 Volvo... read more November 6, 2013 by Bengt Halvorson