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.
With its 2014 Chevrolet Equinox and 2014 GMC Terrain midsize crossover utility vehicles, General Motors [NYSE: GM] stands at the top of the latest round of crash-test results... read more April 7, 2014 by Bengt Halvorson
A corrosion issue has prompted the recall of almost 386,000 Ford utility vehicles that are now ten years old or more. In 2001-2004 Ford Escape models, rear subframes could... read more April 7, 2014 by Bengt Halvorson
On the eve of GM CEO Mary Barra's appearance before hearing a U.S. House subcommittee, GM [NYSE: GM] announced that it would recall an additional 1.3 million vehicles for an... read more March 31, 2014 by Bengt Halvorson
The affordable mid-size category now includes one more top safety performer: the 2014 Chevrolet Malibu. Chevy's mid-size sedan has earned top 'good' scores in every category... read more March 31, 2014 by Bengt Halvorson
If you're looking to take home a new Chevy Cruze, you might be out of luck for a few extra days; GM [NYSE: GM] has issued a stop-sale of the popular compact... read more March 30, 2014 by Bengt Halvorson
Imagine going out on the town with the boss, and seeing... yourself, caught in the act, texting while driving. That's what's happening in the San Francisco Bay Area, where a... read more March 29, 2014 by Bengt Halvorson
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has released crash-test results for the new 2015 Audi A3, and the new compact luxury sedan takes one of the top positions... read more March 25, 2014 by Bengt Halvorson
General Motors [NYSE: GM] is ramping up its recall logistics ahead of efforts to remedy the recall of 1.6 million older GM vehicles for faulty ignition switches—by... read more March 21, 2014 by Bengt Halvorson
The redesigned 2014 Nissan Rogue crossover utility vehicle hasn't been on the market long; but it's already earned a top-tier score from one of the major U.S. safety... read more March 20, 2014 by Bengt Halvorson
The 2014 Hyundai Veloster has been awarded a top five-star Overall rating from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Looking at individual test... read more March 19, 2014 by Bengt Halvorson
Long before beginning our Subaru Forester Six-Month Road Test--and before the brand's recent sales surge--the Forester had built quite a reputation as one of the safer small... read more March 18, 2014 by Bengt Halvorson
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released full crash-test results and safety scores for the 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek—and for the most part... read more February 25, 2014 by Bengt Halvorson
The Audi A6 has been crash-tested by the federal government for the first time in more than 15 years, and it's achieved top five-star scores in all categories of testing... read more February 25, 2014 by Bengt Halvorson
Our inboxes are overflowing with email, and the U.S. Postal Service is dying a slow, agonizing death (inspiring wacky plans for the P.O. to begin making payday-style loans)... read more February 19, 2014 by Richard Read
Vehicle-to-vehicle communications systems will make automotive travel dramatically safer and more efficient. So, what's the big holdup? The National Highway Traffic Safety... read more February 4, 2014 by Richard Read