For every new model year, it seems car manufacturers introduce some dazzling new technology feature that makes it easier for us to stay electronically connected, manage our media collection or keep us from getting lost.
But even better, they’re also increasingly incorporating technology advances into vehicles to keep us safer as we travel from Point A to Point B.
To reflect recent safety advances in passenger vehicles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has introduced new criteria for its 5-Star Safety Ratings System that includes additional tests and data reporting. The ratings changes were first implemented with 2011 model year vehicles, and the new 5-Star Safety Ratings will be displayed on the window sticker of every new vehicle beginning with 2012 models. The new ratings also will offer a single Overall Vehicle Score per vehicle.
Despite the many advances, safety features still vary widely by make, model and option package. Here are some of the key safety features to consider the next time you’re shopping for a new vehicle.
Crash Avoidance Systems
NHTSA identifies vehicles that are equipped with advanced technology, like:
Electronic Stability Control (ESC)– Helps avoid deadly rollover accidents by applying brakes to individual wheels during sudden turns to help keep the car on the road. The widespread availability of ESC systems on SUVs is being credited by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for dramatically reducing rollovers. “The rollover risk in SUVs used to outweigh their size/weight advantage, but that’s no longer the case, thanks to ESC,” says Anne McCartt, IIHS senior vice president for research.
Lane Departure Warning (LDW)– Monitors lane markings and vehicle position and warns the driver if the vehicle begins drifting, an especially useful safety feature for long trips when drivers are more likely to fall asleep at the wheel.
Adaptive Cruise Control - Automatically applies the brakes if its onboard radar system determines the car is too close to another vehicle. One luxury car manufacturer offers a system that can detect objects up to 500 feet ahead and display them on a high-resolution screen.
Additional Popular Safety Features
Other safety features growing in popularity include:
Side and Curtain Airbags – Provide life-saving protection against the dreaded “T-bone” or side-impact crashes. Front airbags are now standard equipment on new cars, but side airbags often are optional. Some side systems are quite sophisticated.
Dual-chamber Side Airbags - Have separate bags that inflate at different pressures to protect the chest and hips. Inflatable curtain systems also protect the head against both front and side impacts.
Automatic Braking – Similar to the radar system used for adaptive cruise control. Automatic braking senses changes in the traffic speed ahead of you. The system issues an audio alarm to It alerts the driver and brings the car to a stop if he fails to react.