Vehicle Safety Features to Look for in 2024
Buckling your seatbelt isn't the only way to protect yourself while driving. The type of car you drive — and its vehicle safety features — can influence how safe you are in the event of an accident.
Advances in automotive technology mean more safety features are available in new cars than ever before. And that includes things you can’t readily see when you walk the lot and “kick the tires” to check out a new vehicle.
Let’s look at some safety features to consider when buying your next automobile.
Advanced crash protection
Vehicle safety standards are mandated by the federal government, including advanced crash protection which includes structural features, restraints and airbags. Although airbags became mandatory for all passenger cars, light trucks and vans in 1999, there’s a lot more to consider when looking for a safe vehicle.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) performs crash tests on vehicles and rates their performance.1 The tests have become more rigorous over the past decade — and the results can tell you much about a car. For instance, if you’re driving a car with a “Good” score in the IIHS’ small overlap crash test, the risk of fatality is 12% lower2 than if you are driving one with a “Poor” rating.
And while airbags are required, currently the federal mandate calls for only two airbags in the front seat. Most new cars have at least six airbags, and some offer as many as 10. According to IIHS, the risk of death for car drivers was reduced by 26%3 with torso-only side airbags and 37% for head-protecting airbags. The numbers increase for SUV drivers: torso-only side airbags reduced the risk of death by 52%4 and by 30% for head-protecting airbags.
Automatic emergency braking
Using radar sensors mounted on the front of a vehicle, Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) can detect a potential collision and alert the driver to avoid it. IIHS reports that AEB alone can reduce rear-end collisions by 50%,5 and AEB with pedestrian detection can reduce pedestrian crashes by 27%.
Since 2015, nearly all new vehicles include some form of AEB, but some of these systems only work at speeds of 55 or below. And some systems don’t work well at night.6
>> Tip: It can be confusing when shopping because automakers use different names for this technology. But looking at the Consumer Reports vehicle model pages7 and checking the IIHS scores8 can help you make an informed decision.
Blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems
This feature detects and warns of approaching traffic in blind spots on the rear quarter of the vehicle to increase your response time — and hopefully avoid a collision. Blind spot detection has been shown to reduce lane-change crashes by 14%.9
The warning can be visual, such as flashing lights on the vehicle’s A-pillars (the pillar between the windshield and either front door), the rear view mirror or on outbound mirrors. Some vehicles include an auditory warning, making a sound to alert you that there’s something in your blind spot. If your car has a haptic steering wheel or driver’s seat, you might even feel a buzz or vibration to give you a heads-up.
Blind spot monitoring10 is often connected to a rear cross-traffic alert that warns a driver when it detects traffic crossing — including pedestrians — behind the vehicle when backing up. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration underlined the importance of rear cross-traffic alerts when, in 2016, it began requiring new vehicles to provide an extended field of vision11 through cameras and technology to help reduce the incidence of back-over crashes.
Forward collision warning
Already offered on several mainstream vehicles as standard equipment, Forward Collision Warning (FCW) uses a combination of cameras, radar and lasers to detect vehicles or objects in front of your car, SUV or truck. It gives a warning that may be visual, audible, tactile or a combination to alert you — and hopefully help avoid a collision.
Newer FCW systems are tied to the AEB systems mentioned above, precharging the breaks to maximize their effectiveness. Most FCW systems also apply the brakes if the driver doesn’t respond. According to one source, forward collision warning systems together with automatic emergency breaking reduced the incidence of all rear-end collisions by 49%12 and severe injury accidents by 42%.
Lane-departure technology monitors the vehicle in relation to lane markers — the center and side stripes on roadways. It gives a warning if it senses your car is veering into another lane. More advanced systems will nudge the vehicle back into the lane.
Lane-keeping assist is a more sophisticated version of lane-departure warnings. Beyond the nudge of the warning system, it uses the steering to keep the vehicle in the lane. And while the force won’t overpower your input, it gets your attention. Lane-keeping assist13 has been shown to avoid more crashes because it begins to correct lane position even before the driver realizes it's necessary.
Lane-centering assist (LCA) goes a step beyond lane-keeping by taking a more active role in keeping your car centered in the lane. In some cases, LCA is only engaged when using active cruise control.
Automatic crash notification
Some safety features are designed to help in an accident's aftermath. Automatic crash notification systems alert first responders if a crash is detected or if air bags have deployed, sending the vehicle’s GPS location so assistance can be provided. While automakers have charged a fee to subscribe to the service in the past, a growing number are now offering it free on new vehicles.
Increased safety features may help prevent accidents or reduce injuries when a collision happens. Before purchasing your next new vehicle, it’s good to know what features to look for to help keep you and your family safe.
Along with important safety features, RBFCU Insurance Agency can help keep you and your car protected with the right insurance policy.
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To learn more about auto insurance coverage options, request a quote or have us review your existing policy for added peace of mind, reach out to us today.
Last updated January 2024
Information in this article is general in nature and for your consideration, not as financial advice. Please contact your own financial professionals regarding your specific needs before taking any action based upon this information.
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The following sources were last accessed December 2023.
1,8“Vehicle Ratings.” IIHS-HLDI Crash Testing and Highway Safety, https://www.iihs.org/ratings.
2Barry, Keith. “What Makes Cars Safer Right Now.” Consumer Reports, 7 Sept. 2023, https://www.consumerreports.org/cars/car-safety/what-makes-cars-safer-right-now-a5313968069.
3,4“Efficacy of Side Airbags in Reducing Driver Deaths in Driver-Side Car and SUV Collisions.” IIHS-HLDI Crash Testing and Highway Safety, https://www.iihs.org/topics/bibliography/ref/1858.
5“Effects of Automatic Emergency Braking Systems on Pedestrian Crash Risk.” IIHS-HLDI Crash Testing and Highway Safety, https://www.iihs.org/topics/bibliography/ref/2243.
6“Few Vehicles Excel in New Nighttime Test of Pedestrian Autobrake.” IIHS-HLDI Crash Testing and Highway Safety, https://www.iihs.org/news/detail/few-vehicles-excel-in-new-nighttime-test-of-pedestrian-autobrake.
7“Car Research.” Consumerreports.org, https://www.consumerreports.org/cars/car-research/.
9“Advanced Driver Assistance.” IIHS-HLDI Crash Testing and Highway Safety, https://www.iihs.org/topics/advanced-driver-assistance.
10Heaps, Russ. Blind-Spot Monitors: Everything You Need to Know - Kelley Blue Book. Kelley Blue Book, 2021.
11“Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards; Rear Visibility” Federal Register, April 7, 2014, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2014/04/07/2014-07469/federal-motor-vehicle-safety-standards-rear-visibility.
12Lorio, Joe. “Car Safety Tech Really Does Cut Number of Rear-End Crashes Drastically.” Car and Driver, 16 Nov. 2022, https://www.caranddriver.com/news/a41981175/automated-emergency-braking-forward-collision-warning-effectiveness/.
13Dean, Morgan E., and Luke E. Riexinger. “Estimating the Real-World Benefits of Lane Departure Warning and Lane Keeping Assist.” SAE Technical Paper Series, SAE International, 2022, https://www.sae.org/publications/technical-papers/content/2022-01-0816/.