Obviously, if you can drive a vehicle that has a high safety rating, you can decrease your chances of serious injury if you happen to be involved in a traffic accident.
Many consumer researchers have identified certain features to shop for as you look at vehicles. It is possible to find vehicles with all of the features mentioned below, but even if you can find a car or truck (new or used) that has several of these features, you can gain the confidence that comes with driving a relatively safe vehicle.
You also should reflect on what safety features matter the most to you in terms of where you live and drive. People in Florida don’t need four-wheel drive vehicles in many cases unless they are going in and out of mud bogs. A driver in Minnesota, on the other hand, needs quite different safety features than a driver in Hawaii.
Here, then, are the types of safety features that you should try to find as you decide to purchase a vehicle:
- First of all, if you can test drive the vehicle that you are considering, do so. Make sure that you can see out of the vehicle easily and that the seat belts feel comfortable and the windshield design works for your height and field of vision. The most important safety feature of any vehicle, in one sense, is that it feels right for you. Do the seats move easily? Is the headrest comfortable or easily adjustable? Are the headlights bright enough? You should be able to answer in the affirmative for all of these questions as you consider a vehicle for purchase.
- Seat belts should have adjustable upper belts to match many body types and keep them snug and secure. They should also have pre-tensioners that will remove excess slack instantly in case of a crash. The best seat belts go even further: they have energy management features that allow some give during a crash so that injuries to your chest are minimal. Such features go by the names of “load limiters” and “tear stitching.” Ask for them. Also, look for rear center seat lap and shoulder belts so that children in the back will be secure.
- Front and side air bags are desirable because not all crashes occur at your front end. Don’t forget that air bags are always meant to be used in conjunction with seat belts. Some vehicles even have head air bags to offer protection during rollovers. Ask for them. If there are none, try to discern if the foam in the vehicle’s roof can provide protection in the event of a rollover.
- Head restraints that adjust automatically according to the movement of the seats are preferable. These restraints will also adjust in the event of an accident. Rear seat head restraints are a nice bonus, especially considering that a rear-end collision will impact the passengers back there before the driver and front-seat passengers absorb any force. Ask for “dynamic” head restraints that adjust automatically.
- An anti-lock brake system (ABS) is preferable for your vehicle. This system enables a driver who brakes suddenly to maintain control of the vehicle, a huge safety feature. ABS is standard on most vehicles made today. An ABS with “brake assist” is the elite safety feature in this category, meaning that it senses emergency braking and applies power in response to the force with which the driver presses the brake and the speed that the vehicle is traveling—quite sophisticated. Brake assist activates ABS more rapidly than systems that do not have this feature. It will reduce your overall stopping distance, a worthy goal in any threatening situation.
- All-wheel drive and traction control both help your grip on the road. Traction control works to keep all of your wheels on the driving surface even as you accelerate to higher speeds. It is usually found on four-wheel drive vehicles. All-wheel drive supplies power to all wheels, obviously, which also improves traction. If you live somewhere that requires maximum traction (snowy climate, frequent rainstorms), then all-wheel drive with traction control might be an important safety feature for you.
- Electronic stability control goes under many different names, but it essentially helps drivers maintain control of their vehicles even when steering is compromised. Thus, the chances of a vehicle spinning out or plowing out of control are greatly reduced as braking is applied to a single wheel. This safety feature dramatically reduces the incidence of rollovers, which most often occur when a vehicle hits a curb or makes contact with a soft shoulder off the road.
- Weight is the final safety feature on this list, and it is often overlooked. All crash data reveal that the heavier of two vehicles with the same safety features will fare best when the vehicles collide. Go heavy if possible, as long as your gas mileage is not reduced too greatly.