“It’s got side airbags and stability control? Great. Now how about that rear DVD system to keep the kids out of my hair?”
As shoppers, we focus more on what we can see and touch rather than those hidden bits and pieces that make sure we walk away from a head-on collision with a concrete wall. A salesperson’s cursory description of a vehicle’s safety features is good enough for most of us, but by golly we’ll spend ten minutes making sure the audio system offers concert hall quality sound.
And then there’s that split-second impact with a guard rail at 60 mph. After spinning off of the road and slamming into a tree, top notch sound still plays out of those premium speakers and, thankfully, you’re still around to hear it – you’re not like the 42,636 people who died in vehicle crashes in 2004. All of a sudden there’s a profound appreciation for the seatbelt around your body, and the now-deflated airbags hanging from the roof and the steering wheel. If we, as car shoppers, spent half as much time focusing on the workings and limitations of features like stability control and antilock brakes as is dedicated to figuring out how to operate the navigation system, we’d likely be much better off. And, as discussed on page 2, even a quick click of the trusty old seatbelt would benefit thousands of drivers.
Fact is, safety features save lives. With data gathered from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), we’ve compiled a list of the five top safety systems in terms of estimated lives saved annually. Also included are various items for which hard data is not available, though given a choice of having a vehicle with or without them, we’d undoubtedly check off the option box every time.
On a side note, you may notice that antilock brakes are absent from our list. According to the IIHS, vehicles equipped with antilock brakes are actually more likely to be involved in fatal single car accidents. The possible causes range from incorrect use of the system (pumping the brakes), feeling the ABS kick in and subsequently releasing brake pressure too soon, or falsely assuming that antilock brakes will offset the effects of aggressive maneuvering that results in a spin.