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 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
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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
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In yet another rust issue affecting its minivans, Ford is recalling 196,500 vehicles in the U.S. because corrosion may cause third-row seats to come loose. A report in The... read more March 13, 2013 by Suzanne Kane
Sometimes, inventions are revolutionary. When the iPhone debuted in 2007, the world let out a collective gasp, as if to say, "Yes, that's just what I've been wanting!"... read more March 11, 2013 by Richard Read 3
The 2013 Volvo XC60, Honda Civic, Lincoln MKZ, and Mazda 6 are all among the latest group of new vehicles to get the top nod from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety... read more March 7, 2013 by Bengt Halvorson
If you're shopping for a small, economical car and care about safety, we have a new winner: the 2013 Honda Civic. The 2013 Honda Civic (both in Coupe and Sedan form) has... read more March 7, 2013 by Bengt Halvorson 1
For decades, Volvo has staked its reputation on outstanding safety features. But now, nearly all of Volvo's competitors offer arrays of airbags, automated braking systems... read more March 5, 2013 by Richard Read