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.
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 0
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 0
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 0
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 0
In the wee hours of June 29, 1967, Jayne Mansfield was being driven to New Orleans in a 1966 Buick Electra. She was sitting up front with her driver and her lover, while her... read more March 15, 2013 by Richard Read 2
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 0
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 0
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 0
Does marijuana affect driving safety, and if so, how dangerous are pot-smoking drivers? There’s definitely evidence to suggest recent use might, even at somewhat low... read more March 4, 2013 by Bengt Halvorson 4
New mothers aren't immune to the dangers of distracted driving. In fact, with the demands of driving with a newborn baby on board, new moms may be among the most distracted... read more February 26, 2013 by Suzanne Kane 3
Chrysler is conducting a voluntary safety recall of certain 2013 Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger mid-size cars over concerns that a broken fuel tank control valve could lead... read more February 25, 2013 by Suzanne Kane 2
It's become a rite of passage for car ownership: At some time, you're likely to get a notification letter in the mail, calling you back to the dealership for a fix on a... read more February 17, 2013 by Bengt Halvorson 1
Traffic cameras cause a lot of controversy. Some folks appreciate the way that the mere presence of a camera can make motorists drive more cautiously. Others see them as a... read more January 25, 2013 by Richard Read 8