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 certain 2012 Civic compact cars over concerns about potentially faulty driveshafts. A notice on the National Highway Traffic... read more June 13, 2012 by Suzanne Kane 1
If you're heading off to college this fall or know someone who is, listen up: Bridgestone is running a contest to give away $50,000 in scholarships, and the deadline for... read more June 12, 2012 by Richard Read
The Hyundai Elantra's been an unqualified success since it arrived, brand-new, in the 2011 model year. Backed by strong sales and positive reviews, it took home the 2012... read more June 1, 2012 by Marty Padgett 4
If you live along the Gulf or Atlantic coasts, you know what June 1 means: it's time to add Weather Underground to your bookmarks and prepare for another hurricane season... read more June 1, 2012 by Richard Read
Disabled Americans make up a large and growing part of our population. In general, Americans are living longer, millions of Baby Boomers are reaching retirement age... read more May 30, 2012 by Suzanne Kane
With Hyundai’s recent announcement that brake throttle override, which it calls brake pedal throttle override capability, is now standard on all 2012 Hyundai models... read more May 23, 2012 by Suzanne Kane
If you own a 2008 model year or newer passenger car, light truck or van under 10,000 pounds gross weight, it’s equipped with a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) as... read more May 22, 2012 by Suzanne Kane 1
America is in the midst of graduation season, which can only mean one thing: high school graduates across the country are motoring around in their very first cars, taking... read more May 18, 2012 by Richard Read 1
By now, most teens know that texting and handheld cellphone use while driving is dangerous. Yet they continue to do so; a Consumer Reports survey reported just last week that... read more May 17, 2012 by Suzanne Kane 2
The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco, and the 2012 Hyundai Azera—both recently redesigned family-size sedans—have earned top crash-test ratings across the board from the... read more May 15, 2012 by Bengt Halvorson 1
Just a year ago, a Prius was a Prius. But this year, say that iconic hybrid model name and you could be speaking of one of three different body styles or four quite different... read more May 15, 2012 by Bengt Halvorson
Officials in Mississippi are investigating two roadside slayings that could be the work of a murderer posing as a police officer or highway patrolman. Both took place in the... read more May 15, 2012 by Richard Read 2
Young drivers believe it's dangerous to talk and to text on smartphones while they're driving, but they're doing it anyway, according to a new study from Consumer Reports... read more May 10, 2012 by Suzanne Kane
Chrysler is conducting a voluntary safety recall of certain 2012 model year Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan minivans over concerns about a malfunctioning... read more May 8, 2012 by Suzanne Kane
Already a high-risk population, teen drivers face even greater risks when they have other young passengers in the car with them, according to a new study from the AAA... read more May 8, 2012 by Suzanne Kane