Are you thinking of buying a new or used car? If you answered yes, then this article is for you. It provides useful tips to make sure that the car you are considering is designed as safely as possible for you, your children and your passengers.
Safety and Motor Vehicle Design
Everyone knows that not all cars are created equal. Just look at the variety of car prices and you’ll see a significant price range. Examine the wide variety of vehicles and you’ll see different styles, different sizes, different shapes, and different capabilities. But a couple of safety features are now found with all vehicles: they all have seat belts; they all have front airbags. And more safety features are being added every day, such as: side airbags (most cars have this feature as of 2008), electronic stability control (required as of the 2012 model year), and crash avoidance technologies are now being added. Car manufacturers realize the benefit of adding even more safety features in cars. After all, safety sells and it ultimately saves lives.
In the 50s and 60s cars were designed to be tough and rigid. If there was a crash, the idea was that the car would not be damaged unless it was involved in a significant crash. However, there was a major problem with that philosophy. Every crash results in the creation of significant energy, and that energy has to go somewhere. If the car does not absorb the energy, then the only place the energy can go is into the people in the car. Our bodies are not designed to handle that kind of energy, and the result is severe injuries or death.
Cars of today are designed with “crumple” zones. When a car is in a collision, it collapses and absorbs the energy before it reaches the passenger compartment. The passenger compartment is now made stronger and the structure around the compartment is designed to absorb the energy. This change has resulted in lives being saved. Check out the video clip below to see the differences between a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air and a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu when crashed into each other.
SaferCar Website and App
To determine which cars are safe, both the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) do actual crash tests. The NHTSA has the 5-Star Safety Rating Program, which provides information about the crash protection and rollover safety of new vehicles beyond what is required by Federal Law. One star is the lowest rating, with five stars being the highest. To find the ratings for your car, check out the website: SaferCar.gov. There, you can enter the make, model, and year and get a summary of how your car did in the safety tests.
Also, to help keep in touch with the various ratings done by NHTSA while out shopping for a new car, you can download the SaferCar app. It is available on iTunes, with an Android version currently in development. This app allows you to check out the various car ratings from your iPhone or iPad, see if there have been any recalls, or file a complaint. The app even provides help in installing a child safety seat.
Another great resource to determine your car’s safety is the IIHS. While the IIHS is involved in a wide range of highway safety activities, one of the best-known aspects is their car crash testing. Five types of crashes are done by the IIHS, with each scored separately:
- Moderate overlap front
- Small overlap front (less of the car is impacted than in the moderate overlap)
- Roof strength, and
- Head restraints.
Once a car is put through each crash test, it receives an overall rating: Poor, Marginal, Acceptable or Good. If a vehicle receives a “Good” rating in the moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests then it is given a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS. If the car gets “Good” in 4 out of 5 tests and “Acceptable” in the 5th, then it gets a Top Safety Pick + (Plus).
The IIHS started doing crash testing in the early 90s with one test, the moderate overlap front. At that time, many of the cars were rated either “Marginal” or “Poor.” Today, nearly all cars earn “Good” ratings in this crash test. As each new crash test has been added, car manufacturers have responded, designing their cars to be safer in each attribute. Receiving the IIHS Top Safety Pick is now a valued recognition of the work done by car manufacturers and it is often included in their car advertising. To see the ratings of cars or trucks, go to www.IIHS.org. The Institute also has a IIHS YouTube channel where you can watch many of the crashes. In the very near future, The Institute will also be examining and comparing a variety of the new crash avoidance technologies.
In today’s highly connected and interactive society, it is easier than ever before to determine if you are buying a safe car. When looking, you should:
- Check out SaferCar.gov and see if the vehicle received 5 stars
- Download the SaferCar app and take it with you when you are looking, and
- Check out the ratings from IIHS to see if the vehicle being considered is a Top Safety + pick.
But, know that the overall benefit of all of this testing and individual rating is that even if you don’t look at the websites, cars are being designed with safety in mind. And that is a great benefit for everyone on the road.
50th Anniversary of the IIHS – Crashing a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air and a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu
- Official: IIHS introduces new test for avoiding crashes, not surviving them [w/videos] (autoblog.com)
- IIHS Tests Crash Prevention Systems (newsplex.com)