Safety measures should always be at the forefront of your mind when buying a new car. It is well worth the effort doing research into the safety technology of your future car, to ensure you’re giving yourself and your passengers the best possible outcome in the event of an accident. Here are some key considerations:
1. Air bags
One of the essential safety precautions in modern cars is airbags. These devices quickly expand to protect passengers in the event of a crash. Since their introduction to the automobile world, they have expanded for use throughout car interiors. The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) recommends finding a car which has frontal, side and curtain airbags. These fittings will help protect your face, neck, head and chest in an accident.
Although airbags are a general safety measure, they are designed to protect adults from impact, so they can be dangerous to children. If you are likely to have a child travel with you in the passenger seat of your car, you may want to shop around for a model that has the capability to turn off the passenger side airbag.
This capability is legal under New Zealand standards when it is necessary for a child to be seated in the passenger seat. Plenty of vehicles come with the option to disable this airbag and you can have disabling switches installed if your car doesn’t.
One of the most practical and commonly used safety features in modern cars is Electronic Stability Control (ESC). This feature helps correct your steering in everyday situations and improves handling on slippery surfaces like gravel or ice. ESC uses a range of sensors to communicate with a computer to realign your vehicle to its intended path by briefly braking on selected wheels to readjust your course.
The system is mainly found in newer model cars as it became an industry standard in all cars in 2012, although some older models may have ESC or a variant. Different manufacturers use varying names for the steering system; you can find a convenient list here.
Consumer Reports highly recommends ECS, labelling it a ‘proven life saver’. Although they advise that you maintain caution when steering, as the system is meant to safely assist driving not defy the laws of physics.
There have been a variety of developments to braking systems in modern vehicles over time, with the Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) being one of the most significant.
This technology changed the way drivers are able to brake in an emergency. Previous to the introduction of ABS, it was far too easy to lock your wheels when braking hard. This locking action could send your car skidding along the road, which is extremely dangerous.
With ABS, drivers are able to brake abruptly and allow the system to measure where and how to apply the braking pressure. The system works by using sensors at each wheel in conjunction with a computer to ensure each wheel uses its maximum braking ability to avoid lock-up.
Although it’s not legally mandatory to have ABS in your vehicle, it is quite rare for any car to not be sold with the system these days.
Newer braking systems – such as Brake Assist – work alongside ABS to achieve even greater safety. Brake Assist recognises when a driver is braking in an urgent manner and initiates maximum braking pressure to reduce the potential of a collision.
4. Safety belts
Safety seat belts are a legal requirement for all vehicles in New Zealand and likely the most effective safety measure in any car. There are technological adaptations in some seat belts, which may further protect you and give you extra peace of mind.
Some newer model cars have belts which offer safety features such as adaptive restraints, auto-locking retractors and technology which adapts the restraint to the size of the passenger.
If you are looking to buy a car with the intention of regularly using the middle-rear seat, you should avoid vehicles with a lap belt and look for one that has an over-the-shoulder belt. These belts are significantly safer as it better restrains passengers and boasts a stronger locking system.
Some vehicles’ rear seat belts are equipped with inflatable pouches to reduce the injury inflicted by the belt itself in the event of a collision. This can be particularly important for child passengers and the elderly.