Guide To Car Safety
Which Car Safety Features Are Most Important?
Automakers are quick to tout their latest safety features in their ads and when you are shopping at a dealership. But are the latest and seemingly greatest car safety features really worth the extra expense? We talked to the experts to find out which safety features are most important.
Proper Seat Belt Use
While you may want to invest some extra dollars in some of these safety features, the most important item to keep you safe is in every car--the seat belt. Of the more than 425,000 lives saved from 1960 through 2008, more than half are the result of the occupants wearing their seat belts, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Of course, it provides the most protection if you wear it properly--low and tight across your hips and snug against your shoulder for older kids and adults, and car seats or boosters installed correctly with the kids buckled up properly for your youngest passengers
Electronic Stability Control
Experts estimate that the second most important safety feature to have is electronic stability control (ESC). ESC is actually a system of sensors that monitors how your car responds to your steering inputs, applying the brakes and reducing engine power to get the car under control during a sudden swerve or skidding. While ESC is currently available on about 80 percent of vehicles, it is optional on many of them. With the 2012 model year, it will be required equipment on all passenger vehicles.
"It's important not to confuse ESC with traction control," said Joe Nolan, vice president at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). "Traction control is designed to prevent wheel spin, which is purely a driver convenience."
Side airbags are another safety feature that should be high on your list, as they reduce fatalities anywhere from 26 to 52 percent (depending on the type of airbag and model of car), according to the IIHS. Fortunately, this life saving technology found in about 90 percent of 2009 models either as standard or optional equipment. There are two kinds of side airbags--those that protect the torso and the head curtain type that protect the head in a side impact or rollover.
"The design and coverage of the two types of airbags can vary widely from one car to another, so be aware of how they will protect you and your passengers," said Nolan. For example, not all vehicles with head curtain airbags protect all rows of occupants and only some cover the full window, which helps protect occupants in a wider range of heights. To learn more, read Understanding Airbags.
Active Head Restraints
There's still more research to be done, but early reports indicate that active head restraints, headrests designed to provide extra protection from whiplash, help reduce injuries in rear-end collisions. While only about one-third of 2009 models have them, it is standard on numerous affordable cars, including some Hondas, Kias, Subarus and Toyotas. The IIHS rates head restraints in both static and dynamic tests so consumers can understand how well a car's head restraint will protect against whiplash regardless of whether the restraint is active or not.
While there are numerous other car safety features, the items mentioned here are the ones with the greatest ability to reduce injury or prevent a fatality. Newer technologies, such as back up cameras, blind spot and lane departure warning systems and headlights that turn to follow the road are not yet proven, though they may be in the future.