When it’s time to buy a new car, we all have our own ideas about what makes it the right fit. Some of us want more legroom, others want more cargo space. Then there are those who just want a killer sound system and great rims.
While many of the features offered by manufacturers may be a matter of personal choice and preference, says Nino Tarantino, CEO of Octo Telematics, car safety features are not optional – and they should take top priority when buying a car.
He suggests starting by prioritizing the safety features that are connected directly to insurance discounts, such as airbags, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control and adaptive cruise control. Many of these features now come standard in new cars, but may not be available in older models, so choose carefully.
Beyond those features, Tarantino says to look for equipment that will help reduce risk on the road. “Those include blind spot notification, lane departure warning, back-up monitors and forward collision alert/prevention systems,” he says.
Here are safety features you may want to your car to have.
Airbags have been standard since 1998, and today they’re so sophisticated they can detect the weight and position of the driver and front passenger. That’s important because it can further reduce the risk of injury to drivers and occupants. Crash tests by the Insurance Institute for HIghway Safety have found side-impact airbags are an essential safety feature, but those that protect both the head and the chest are more effective than those that only protect the chest.
Antilock brakes (ABS)
ABS became standard in the 1990s, so chances are the cars you’re looking at will have them. They help drivers to make shorter stops and keep brakes from locking up when the brake pedal is pushed with a great deal of pressure. This helps the driver to maintain control of steering even while braking, which is important in avoiding accidents.
Electronic Stability Control (ESC)
Like antilock brakes, ESC now comes standard on cars built after 2012. ESC uses computerized sensors to help the vehicle avoid sliding or skidding. It’s particularly helpful – and important – in taller vehicles like SUVs and pickup trucks, which have a greater tendency to roll over.
Tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS)
Your tires are one of the most important parts of your car, but they’re also very vulnerable to damage from the road. Changes in temperature can decrease their pressure, leading to blowouts or increased wear. Make sure if the car you’re buying has a TPMS, that it’s working properly – but also make sure you check your tires’ pressure every month with a manual gauge.
Nearly half of all accidents occur at night. Adaptive headlights help improve night vision by reacting to the speed, steering and elevation of the car, then illuminating the road according to the direction of the car. This relatively new technology helps reduce glare. In addition to helping you see your path more clearly, it makes you more noticeable to other drivers.
Blind spot warning
Many accidents occur simply because we can’t see what’s in our car’s blind spot. This relatively new system uses radar or cameras to detect vehicles that are in the lane beside you and/or hidden in your vehicle’s blind spot. Some systems sound a warning if you begin to move into the lane occupied by another vehicle or put your turn signal on when another vehicle is in your blind spot.
Collision avoidance systems
New technology uses radar or camera-based systems to detect objects that step into the car’s path. Volvo was the first automaker to offer this feature, which automatically hits the brakes if the driver doesn’t, and now many auto manufacturers have similar systems available.
Look for crash-avoidance safety systems in your new car, which can be included on most 2019 models. Things like forward collision warnings, autobrake, lane-departure warnings, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot detection and park-assist systems all can help reduce your chances of being involved in an accident.
General Motors’ OnStar was the trailblazer in allowing drivers to stay in touch with a dispatch center when they needed help, but today many manufacturers – including Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Kia, Lexus and Hyundai – offer a factory-installed system that uses a combination of GPS and mobile phone technology. This allows drivers to do everything from locate a “lost” car in a parking lock to unlock doors without the key to get emergency aid after a car accident – all at the touch of a button.
Tarantino says, all the safety features in the world won’t help a driver who is distracted or drowsy.
“In our experience analyzing millions of drivers and data, the single most important safety feature is still the driver,” he says. “Don’t text and drive, be well rested and minimize or eliminate distractions that might take your mind off the task at hand.”
Tarantino says drivers should consider enrolling in a telematics program, such as usage-based insurance, or UBI, that provides incentives for improved driving behaviors.
“The reward is not only safe roads,” he says, “but it can also include better insurance premiums, increased gas performance and longer-lasting car health. We’ve seen such programs benefit safe drivers time and time again.”
All the electronic features in the world need one thing to ensure they’re effective – you. Being alert and aware is the best way to ensure you’re driving safely. When shopping for a safe car you should also consider car safety ratings in your search.