How Cars Are Being Made Safer Today

Current Innovations for Safer Automobiles

For years, seat belts, airbags, and antilock brakes were the pillars of vehicle safety, with seat belts alone saving approximately 15,000 lives annually on U.S. roads. However, the last ten years have witnessed a quiet revolution in automotive safety. Modern cars are not just better at safeguarding passengers during an accident, but they also offer technologies that can prevent collisions altogether. Some even can automatically alert emergency services if an accident occurs.

Despite these advancements, many Americans still drive older cars, lacking these safety features. Recent data reveals that the average vehicle age on American roads is 12.2 years. Older vehicles often lack crucial safety technologies like backup cameras, automatic emergency braking (AEB), and electronic stability control (ESC), all of which have been shown to prevent accidents and reduce injuries.

If you’re in the market for a new or pre-owned car, below are some critical safety enhancements to maximize safety.

Collision Alert System

A 2019 research report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) suggests that making automatic collision alert systems standard in all new cars could result in over 700 lives saved annually.

In the event of an accident where you cannot call for assistance, most modern vehicles come equipped with an automatic crash notification feature. This system alerts emergency services if it senses that the car’s airbags have deployed or a collision has occurred. It transmits the car’s GPS location via a built-in cellular connection or a connected phone. Some systems even provide first responders with predictions about the type of injuries to anticipate based on the crash’s severity—crucial information when time is of the essence. Previously, most car manufacturers required a subscription fee for this service. Still, an increasing number are now including it at no additional cost or providing complimentary trial periods lasting up to a decade.

To check if this feature is available in a car you’re considering purchasing, confirm the feature’s availability and status on your vehicle by visiting the manufacturer’s website or speaking with your dealership.

Vehicle Stability Management

Shortly after being mandated for all vehicles, the NHTSA determined that vehicle stability management technology helped save close to 1,600 lives in a year.

Vehicle Stability Management (VSM) employs sensors to monitor variables like wheel speed, steering input, and lateral movement. The system then autonomously tweaks the brake force and engine output to ensure the car remains on its intended course. This is particularly beneficial in preventing the car from skidding or losing control during turns and is especially valuable for taller, top-heavy vehicles like SUVs and trucks. While it became obligatory for all new U.S. cars in 2012, numerous older vehicles do not have this crucial safety mechanism.

If your current vehicle lacks VSM, it’s advisable to consider switching to a car equipped with this life-preserving feature. A pre-owned car 10 years old or younger with solid safety ratings from NHTSA and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) would be a suitable choice.

Enhanced Collision Safety

Driving a car that has earned a “Good” rating in the IIHS’s small overlap crash test reduces the likelihood of a fatal frontal crash by 12% compared to a car with a “Poor” rating.

Both the NHTSA and IIHS conduct crash tests and issue safety ratings. Over the last ten years, IIHS tests have become increasingly rigorous, prompting automakers to enhance vehicle designs to achieve higher ratings. For instance, IIHS introduced a “small overlap” crash test in 2012 to evaluate how effectively a car shields its occupants in a collision involving the front-left corner of the vehicle with another object or car. About 40% of tested vehicles received a “Poor” rating initially. However, 13 automakers re-engineered 71 models within three years to perform better in this test. Almost all of these updated models succeeded, featuring structural enhancements and improved restraints that more effectively secure occupants.

Opt for cars with a five-star overall safety rating from the NHTSA and have received a “Top Safety Pick” designation from the IIHS. Information on both these ratings can be found on the respective car model’s pages.

Automated Braking Systems with Nighttime Pedestrian Recognition

NHTSA research indicates that installing high-speed automated braking systems capable of nighttime pedestrian detection in all new cars could save 362 lives and avert more than 24,000 injuries annually.

Automated braking systems use front-mounted radar sensors to identify impending collisions with other vehicles, pedestrians, or cyclists. The system will then automatically apply the brakes to either prevent the crash or mitigate its severity. According to IIHS, funded by the insurance industry, standard automated braking alone can reduce rear-end collisions by half. At the same time, those equipped with pedestrian detection can decrease pedestrian-involved accidents by 27%.

While many vehicles manufactured after 2015—and nearly all new ones—come with some form of automated braking, not all systems are created equal. Some are limited to functioning at speeds of 55 mph or lower, and tests indicate that the effectiveness of specific systems diminishes at night, which is when most fatal pedestrian incidents occur. The most reliable systems are effective at city and highway speeds and function well in low-light conditions.

Car manufacturers often market this feature under various names, potentially confusing consumers. Pay attention to versions that work effectively at city and highway speeds, and refer to IIHS ratings to gauge the system’s performance.

Enhanced Safety Features for Backseat Passengers

Advanced seat belt technologies, which have already reduced the risk of fatalities by 12.8% for drivers and front-seat passengers in vehicles equipped with front airbags, are also increasingly being implemented in rear seats.

While most automotive safety innovations have historically focused on front-seat occupants, advocacy groups have led manufacturers to extend these features to the rear seats. These include seat belt pretensioners that automatically tighten upon the detection of a crash, helping to secure passengers in place, and load limiters that prevent the belt from exerting excessive force on a passenger’s chest, thereby reducing potential injury. According to NHTSA data, these technologies have already made front seats safer by lowering the fatality risk by 12.8%. Newer vehicles also incorporate alerts for the driver to check the rear seat for children before leaving the car to avoid heatstroke fatalities. In addition, systems that notify the driver if a rear-seat passenger is not wearing their seat belt or if they unfasten it while the vehicle is in motion are becoming standard.

When considering a new or used car, check Consumer Reports’s safety score for rear-seat passengers on the vehicle’s model page and look into IIHS moderate overlap test scores for backseat protection. If your car has a rear-occupant alert, ensure it’s activated.

The following video provides some of the best car safety features.

California Car Accident Lawyer

I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento car accident lawyer. Sustaining injuries in a car crash can have severe repercussions. If you’ve been injured in such an incident, contact our legal team at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 for free, friendly advice. Since 1982, we’ve been assisting clients in securing just compensation for their accidents and cases of wrongful conduct. View our track record in verdicts and settlements.

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