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.
Nissan is conducting a voluntary safety recall of certain 2012 model year Frontier, Pathfinder and Xterra two-wheel-drive vehicles for an issue with front-wheel hubs. A... read more October 2, 2012 by Suzanne Kane
No matter how many years you’ve been driving, you’ve likely encountered situations where you need to make a decision about what to do at a yellow light. Depending... read more September 25, 2012 by Suzanne Kane 4
General Motors is conducting a safety recall of certain 2013 model year Chevrolet Sonic subcompact cars due to problems with the turn signal lamp. A notice on the National... read more September 22, 2012 by Suzanne Kane
The Golden Years may be the best time of our lives or not, but when it comes to getting behind the wheel and continuing to drive, some mature drivers may need a little help... read more September 21, 2012 by Suzanne Kane
In yet another safety recall for a potential fire risk in one of its vehicles, Ford is voluntarily recalling certain 2012 model year Edge crossovers equipped with 2.0-liter... read more September 15, 2012 by Suzanne Kane 1
Volvo Cars of North America is conducting a voluntary safety recall of a small number of 2013 model year S60 sport sedans and XC60 crossovers for an airbag defect. A notice... read more September 15, 2012 by Suzanne Kane 1
Sometimes a good idea comes along that takes some time to gain traction. In a stepped-up effort to discourage distracted driving, a new campaign from the National Highway... read more September 11, 2012 by Suzanne Kane
The first U.S. crash-test results are in for the new 2013 Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S sports cars, and they may be a bit surprising to some—surprisingly good, that is... read more September 6, 2012 by Bengt Halvorson
The all-new 2013 Ford Escape has already been in the news this week, along with several times earlier this summer, for safety-related recalls. But this time there's good news... read more September 6, 2012 by Bengt Halvorson
Ford Motor Co. [NYSE: F] has issued yet another recall affecting the 2013 Ford Escape—this one also due to fire concerns. The latest recall covers 6,146 U.S. vehicles... read more September 5, 2012 by Bengt Halvorson
Getting in that last-minute travel with the family this Labor Day holiday weekend may be a high priority on your list, but trying to cram in too many miles in too short a... read more August 30, 2012 by Suzanne Kane
General Motors is conducting a safety recall of certain 2012 model year Chevrolet Sonic subcompact cars to fix problems with windshield wiper reservoirs. A notice in the... read more August 27, 2012 by Suzanne Kane
The 2013 Ford Taurus large family sedan, Ford Explorer crossover and Lincoln MKS large luxury sedan have each earned a five-star overall crash rating from the National... read more August 24, 2012 by Suzanne Kane
With more than 100,000 crashes each year linked to texting and driving, getting the message out about the national epidemic of texting while driving is gaining momentum... read more August 20, 2012 by Suzanne Kane
A new report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that seat belt use in the United States dropped one percent last year. Nationally, seat... read more August 20, 2012 by Suzanne Kane