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.
Honda is conducting a voluntary safety recall of a small number of 2012 model-year Civic compact cars to fix a problem with the steering column. A notice on the National... read more December 3, 2012 by Suzanne Kane
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In August, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed that fewer Americans used their seatbelts in 2011. According to NHTSA, the percentage of drivers and... read more November 20, 2012 by Richard Read
Two upcoming Honda Motor Co. safety systems set their sights toward a ten-year 'zero collisions' goal that includes a new generation of accident avoidance as well as... read more November 16, 2012 by Bengt Halvorson
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Chrysler is conducting a voluntary safety recall involving 744,822 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Liberty SUVs due to concerns over unintended deployment of airbags. A notice... read more November 12, 2012 by Suzanne Kane 3
The 2013 Ford Fusion mid-size sedan just received the Top Safety Pick Award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The criteria for earning the designation... read more November 8, 2012 by Suzanne Kane
Tuesday morning, residents across the Northeast began assessing the damage from Hurricane Sandy. One of those folks -- Reggie Thomas -- stepped outside to discover that the... read more November 2, 2012 by Richard Read 1
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened a preliminary investigation into reports of unintended acceleration in 2000-2003 Ford Taurus and Mercury... read more November 2, 2012 by Suzanne Kane
If you keep up with car news, you're probably familiar with adaptive cruise control, which works like regular cruise control, but with the added benefit of slowing your... read more November 1, 2012 by Richard Read
BMW is conducting a voluntary recall of certain 2005 through 2007 7-Series sedans to fix a software problem that may allow the doors to open, even when they appear to be... read more October 25, 2012 by Suzanne Kane
Last week, Dykema released results from its 2012 Automotive Institute Survey, which polled 100 auto executives about their thoughts on the industry's future. Among the most... read more October 24, 2012 by Richard Read 1
Late-model Jeep Patriot compact crossovers may have an issue with stalling, and federal safety officials are looking into a series of complaints. Earlier this week, the... read more October 19, 2012 by Bengt Halvorson