How important are safety features?
If you are planning to upgrade to a safer and newer car, there is a lot to consider. Which model to go for, which features to choose? Modern cars come with a bunch of safety features that protect you and your loved ones from serious damage in the unpleasant case of a crash. If you are wondering about the overall safety of a prospective new vehicle, their safety rating is a good first indication. We recommend to go for a newer model whenever possible as their safety features will be up to modern standards. Only 10% of cars made in 2003 had a 5-star safety rating, in comparison to 87% of new cars sold from 2015 to 2016.
Please note that many modern cars come with similar features under a slightly different name. If you are unsure, your car seller can give you a hand and explain all features in-depth.
Essential safety features
When looking into which car to buy, you should ensure that these safety features are included. While they are mostly mandatory, it is still worth checking, if your essentials are in good condition and ready to be used.
Needless to say that seatbelts are the most crucial safety feature in all cars, no matter their age. While seatbelts already had been invented in 1849, they only became a mandatory feature for all car seats in 1971 in Australia. You are required to wear a seatbelt at all times while driving. Tests have shown that wearing a seatbelt reduces your risk of injury about 90%. In case of a crash, your seatbelt keeps you safely in place and prevents you from smashing against other people or hard surfaces. Some cars come with a more basic set of seatbelts while others have more enhanced features to protect you more effectively.
- Seatbelt pretensioners ensure that your seatbelt is tensioned appropriately and take in slack in the case of a frontal impact. This may position the passenger better, so it can take full advantage of deploying airbags and receive maximum protection.
- Force limiters normally come with pretensioners and reduce the force that the shoulder belt puts on the passenger’s chest.
- Often ignored, adjustable anchors for the shoulder belt can make a big difference for your safety. They help you adjust your seatbelt position across the chest instead of the neck. While they also provide more comfort and ensure that your seatbelt won’t move down your shoulder, they can prevent serious neck injuries.
If you happen to buy a used car, it is sensible to check all seatbelts thoroughly. Worn or torn seatbelts must be replaced. Most modern cars come with a warning system that starts beeping when the driver or one of the passengers forgets to put on their seatbelts.
While some older cars may not have airbags, their implementation is now key safety feature to keep the driver and their passengers safe. In case of a crash, your airbag will deploy and protect you and other passengers from hitting impact points in the car. It is recommended to have airbags in front, sides, curtain, and knees for ideal protection.
If you buy a used car, you should ensure that your airbags haven’t been recalled.
Electronic Stability Control (ESC)
According to RACQ, some experts consider the ESC as the most important safety feature since the invention of seatbelts. It has been a mandatory feature in Australian cars since 2011 and controls understeer and oversteer. By monitoring the car’s behaviour through attentive sensors, it automatically alters engine power and brake application if needed. In the case of a critical maneuver, your ESC can help you regain full steerability while a vehicle without ESC might break away and skid, putting you into a higher risk of crashing. Note that depending on the model, manufacturers may have slightly varying names for their ESC but they fulfil the same purpose.
Anti Lock Brakes System (ABS)
Your ABS supports your ESC by preventing your wheels from locking up during hard braking. If the wheels stop turning while you brake, your front tires may slide which makes it impossible to steer, especially on slippery surfaces. Your ABS monitors your wheels through sensors and helps maximise braking while preventing each individual wheel from lock-up. This may allow you to steer around an obstacle while braking and prevent a crash. A light may flash on your dashboard to indicate that ABS got activated but it shouldn’t concern you. It’s best to brake as hard as you normally would and let the system assist you.
Additional safety features
Not all safety features are essential. While a few decades ago, your own instinct was the only safety feature you could rely on, additional safety features will make your life much easier. They help you look out for obstacles and can react faster and more precise which, in a worst-case-scenario, may even save a life.
Adaptive Cruise Control
The Adaptive Cruise Control, or sometimes called Active Cruise Control, may feel a little spooky at first. Once set, the feature will detect the speed and distance of the vehicle in front of you and keep a safe distance. If you set your cruise control to 110 km/h but the car in front of you slows down to 90 km/h, your car will automatically adapt and follow at a safe distance. Once the car in front speeds up again, your car will, too. This is particularly useful for driving long distances in traffic. However, you should always stay alert and pay attention to your surroundings.
Auto Emergency Braking
Similar to the Adaptive Cruise Control, your car uses radar or lasers to measure the distance to the car in front of you. If your reactions are too slow, your car will hit the brakes for you, preventing most rear-end accidents up to a speed of 60 km/h. While it can be a little annoying in city traffic if your car reacts to obstacles much faster than you, it could save your life. Some cars also come with a system to detect pedestrians in the way of the car and will either make an audible sound to give you enough time to react or start braking for you.
Most modern cars come with a reverse-parking assistant of some kind. It gets activated once you put your car in reverse and gives you a camera view of the blind spot at your backside. It could help you detect playing children, passing adults, or may simply help with your reverse parking.
Blind-spot warning (BSW)
Similarly, your BWS uses radar or cameras (depending on the car model) to monitor your blind spots. A light or icon in your side mirrors will warn you if a car is sitting in your blind spot next to you while you are considering changing lanes. Some systems also make an audible sound if you indicate or try to change lanes regardless. Some more advanced systems may fully prevent you from turning into a lane if your car detects an obstacle in there and moves your car back into the middle of your current lane.
Your headlights are meant to improve your vision after sunset. Adaptive headlights provide better visibility for your car by monitoring its elevation and adapting their position and strength. This way, they reduce the glare for other drivers while providing the best street vision for the driver.
Traction control is an electronic system that limits how much your wheels spin while accelerating. This allows you to drive with maximum traction, even if your outside conditions are far from ideal and slippery. They often come with an antilock brake system that gently puts the breaks on when a wheel starts spinning too quickly to prevent your car from skidding.