Detailed Guide on all your Car Safety Features

Posted: December 22, 2023

Between 1913 and 2020, the number of motor-vehicle deaths in the U.S., including passenger cars, trucks, buses, and motorcycles, increased 831 percent, from 4,200 deaths in 1913 to nearly 57,000 in 2021, according to data compiled by the National Safety Council.  

In 2021, a pedestrian died of a run-in with a motor vehicle every 66 minutes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All told, tens of thousands of people in the United States die annually because of police-reported motor-vehicle crashes, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data shows.  

Odds of dying in a motor-vehicle crash are one in 101, according to the National Safety Council, meaning you’re more likely to be killed in an accident involving a car or truck than by 

  • falling (one in 98); 
  • drowning (one in 1,006); or  
  • choking on food (one in 2,659). 

Why can driving be dangerous?  

A 1908 postcard depicts a motorist stopped along the road to chat with a hunter.  

“Hello,” the motorist says, “killed anything?”  

“No,” the hunter says, “have you?”  

Cars have gotten safter through the years. Safety initiatives have led to incremental, yet substantial, gains. For example, in the 1960s lawmakers passed laws requiring seatbelts or seatbelt anchors in new cars. Congress authorized the federal government to set safety standards for new cars, and padded dashboards became standard equipment.  

Today’s safety advances roll out much faster and are much more high-tech. Driver behavior still factors overwhelmingly into crashes today. A study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that driver error was the critical reason, defined as the “immediate reason for the critical pre-crash event,” in approximately 94 percent of crashes.  

 

But there’s good news. In many respects, driving is safer today than ever before. Advances in technology have made cars capable of protecting us from different hazards. 

 

Safety glass: Guarding against flying shards 

To make laminated safety glass, manufacturers press a thin layer of transparent plastic, polyvinyl butyral between two or more sheets of glass. This holds the glass in place if it breaks, reducing the possibility of anyone’s being injured by flying shards, because the glass sticks to the plastic film, even if the latter stretches. 

Laminated safety glass also blocks high-frequency sound and almost all ultraviolet radiation. 

Besides cars, it’s used in thermometers for taking body temperature, cutting boards, greenhouse windows, shower enclosures, and office partitions. Laminated safety glass resists breaking or crumbling during an earthquake or a tornado. 

The seatbelt: The most cost-effective lifesaver 

What is a human life worth? Most people would say that a human life is priceless; no amount of money can ever replace the value of a human life. Crude economic analyses have nonetheless been attempted. Years ago, after considering a hypothetical pilot’s calculus to bail out of an equally hypothetical (and hypothetically expensive) fighter jet, the U.S. Air Force estimated pilots’ lives at between 1.17 and 9 million dollars.  

Assuming, for sake of argument, that this economic figure is a fair proxy for the value of a human life, considering seatbelts saved almost 15,000 lives in 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), their universal use would be a huge return on investment. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seatbelt use is the most cost-effective way to save lives and reduce injuries in crashes. 

If you’re in the front seat, buckling up lowers your risk of fatal injury by 45 percent, according to the NHTSA. In light trucks, seatbelt use can reduce the risk of fatal injury by 60 percent and moderate to critical injury by 65 percent. In 2020, 56 percent of teen drivers and passengers ages 16 through 19 who were killed in car crashes were not wearing a seat belt.  

It’s clear what’s at stake here. And yet millions of people don’t buckle up. So, in the 1980s, states began enforcing seatbelt use. In 1985, New York became the first state to require front-seat passengers to wear a harness or pay a fine: $50. Within 10 years, most every state had a seatbelt law, and enforcement started getting pricklier and pricier.  

A failure to comply with New York’s occupant restraint law can result in steep fines and “points” on a license.  

As explored in a thoughtful article in AAA Magazine, Edward J. Claghorn created the first patented seatbelt in 1885 to keep tourists safe in taxis in New York City. Sir George Cayley, a wealthy English landowner, invented a seatbelt in the 19th century for the pilot of a manned glider he had built—one that predated the flight of Orville and Wilbur Wright by half a century.  

Nils Bohlin’s three-point harness was a breakthrough. Until then, seatbelts in cars were two-point lap belts, which strapped across the lower body with the buckle placed over the pelvis. Volvo hired Bohlin in 1958 as a safety engineer and he designed the seatbelts we know today through a three-point seatbelt that better protects the driver and passenger in an accident. The three-point design was created to help secure both the upper and lower body. Better yet, this seatbelt design was simple and effective, leading other car manufacturers to borrow the design.  

As you can see, the evolution of the seatbelt into a major difference-maker was a gradual process.  Public-service safety campaigns stressed the importance of seatbelts and lawmakers started requiring compliance from both manufacturers and motorists.  

Airbags: The good explosion 

Powered by a chemical reaction, an airbag explodes into a vehicle at about 200 mph so that it can deploy faster than the crash triggering it plays out.  Front airbags have been mandatory in all new cars since 1999 

Airbags work in conjunction with seatbelts when drivers and riders position themselves appropriately. They deploy to hopefully reduce the chance that a car occupant’s upper body or head strikes the vehicle interior. Upon impact, a signal is sent from the airbag system’s electronic control unit prompting the airbag to inflate. 

Like seatbelts, airbags are only as good as they’re made. A sweeping recall of cars with Takata-brand airbags in the 2010s revealed the safety devices contained deadly shrapnel and could explode if deployed after long-term exposure to high heat and humidity.  

Forward-collision warning: ‘Most-promising breakthrough’ 

Forward Collision Warning (FCW) uses built-in laser, radar, and/or camera technology to anticipate a collision and warn the driver in real time—via flashing lights on the instrument panel or windshield, beeps, and other sounds­—to take immediate action. Automatic Emergency Braking goes a step further and slows the vehicle without any driver input at all.  Of course, these sorts of features may vary depending on the car model and manufacturer, and all motorists should be familiar with the specific features for the vehicle operated.  

FCW and AEB (Automatic Emergency Braking), when used in tandem, have been shown to reduce the number and severity of accidents. According to one study, forward collision warning reduces front-to-rear crashes with injuries by 27 percent.  

Depending on how it is implemented in a vehicle, if the system employs automatic emergency braking, the technology can slow or stop the vehicle before impact if the driver takes no action. If the system is not paired with automatic emergency braking, it will only warn the driver, who then must act. 

Some forward collision warning systems operate only at slower city speeds. Others work at higher speeds.  

Backup cameras 

Backup cameras can help drivers see objects behind them while backing up.  

Preventing back-over accidents involving young children too close to the rear of a car to be visible to the driver is the widely perceived primary purpose of backup cameras. A 2014 study showed backup cameras to be far more effective at spotting children and other obstacles than less sophisticated parking sensors – or drivers using their mirrors. The study concluded that the effectiveness of the technology depended on the backing situation. One study published in Traffic Injury Prevention found that rearview cameras reduced backing crashes by 17 percent.

If your car doesn’t currently have a backup camera, also called a rearview camera, it’s likely that your next new vehicle will. Congress in 2008 passed the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act, which was fully implemented May 1, 2018, requiring automakers to install rearview technology in all vehicles. The technology will be required on all new cars as of May 2018.  

Rearview mirrors have been a fundamental piece of motor vehicle equipment for more than a century. But as useful as they are, they have a couple of significant drawbacks: They don’t always allow the driver to  see what’s immediately behind your car below the rear window.  

According to  government statistics, approximately 210 deaths and 15,000 injuries result from back-over accidents involving light vehicles each year. Tragically, 31 percent of those fatalities arising from the use of passenger vehicles involve children under the age of 5.  

Rearview cameras may be a helpful tool for motorists, but their effectiveness will, of course, be dependent on the actual backing situation, according to a 2015 study in Human Factors. The field of view and image quality can vary significantly.  

Adaptive cruise control: Automotive autopilot 

A blind mechanical engineer named Ralph Teetor invented automotive cruise control in the 1940s. Teetor patented his brainchild in the early 1950s, it started appearing in cars in the late 1950s, and, in the intervening years, the device has gone through a series of catchy names, including “Speedostat.”  

We’ll never know what Teetor would think of the latest iteration of his invention, adaptive cruise control. One of many driver-assist features now becoming standard issue in new vehicles, adaptive cruise control aims to reduce the risk that a car will run into obstacles or rear-end another vehicle while moving at a pre-set speed.  

Adaptive cruise control is the newer, higher-tech version of the cruise control that Teetor introduced in the 1940s. Adaptive cruise control, if activated on a vehicle, maintains the speed set for the car until it is in slower traffic, where it will brake automatically to maintain a safe distance. Once traffic thins out and speeds up, the adaptive cruise control accelerates accordingly. It does all this with cameras, radar sensors, and lasers.  

Weather conditions may hinder the sensors on which this technology relies, so AAA (American Automobile Association) recommends considering the weather when deciding whether to use adaptive cruise control.  

Another potential pitfall of adaptive cruise controls is that it can pose a speeding hazard; drivers who use it are 24 percent more likely to exceed the speed limit, according to a 2021 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Systems on the market today don’t keep drivers from setting speeds more than the legal limit. Cruise control has been an essential feature of long car trips for many decades, but it can also be the source of rear-end crashes involving drivers who don’t realize they are coming up too fast on a slower vehicle or obstacle in the road.  

Adaptive front lights: Curved illumination 

Adaptive headlights, also known as Adaptive Driving Beams (ADB), can track the rotation of the steering wheel to turn and illuminate the road as it curves. This technology uses automatic headlight beam technology to “shine less light on occupied areas of the road and more light on unoccupied areas,” according to a press release from the NHTSA.  

How effective is this as a safety measure? Studies show the technology reduces crashes, but the fact that most systems also use LED or HID lamps makes it difficult for researchers to determine if it’s the quality of the lamp or the way it turns that makes these systems effective. 

A study by the Highway Loss Data Institute—a nonprofit research organization that publishes insurance loss statistics on most car, SUV, pickup truck and motorcycle models on U.S. and Canadian roads—did show that curve-adaptive HID systems allow drivers to spot an object one-third of a second sooner in the dark, as reported in US News and World Report. 

An abstract adaptive front-light system, unlike the traditional AFS (Adaptive Front lighting System) (Adaptive Front lighting System), which uses the steering wheel for the headlamps’ horizontal adjustment, has a camera as a sensor to adjust the horizontal rotation of the headlamps and improve road illumination to better light curves. This is important because the primary cause of most nighttime accidents is drivers’ failure to quickly enough see and react to obstacles and pedestrians; as many as seven in 10 fatal vehicle-pedestrian accidents happen at night, often because of inadequate illumination at road corners and curves, where fixed headlamps create blind spots outside the light-beam range.  

Adaptive front-lighting systems can help with this problem, automatically adjusting headlamps for factors such as road and weather conditions using transducers, electronic sensors, and actuators, rather than the mechanical linkages of earlier directional headlamps. Comparisons show that headlamps without AFS do not illuminate the full curve in a road. 

Until recently, adaptive headlights were mostly offered as an optional feature on upscale cars; they didn’t appear in North American until the early 2000s, according to some sources.  

As the demand for adaptive headlights increases, and the cost decreases, the hope is that they will become available as a standard item on a wider variety of makes and models of cars. 

.A driver’s ability to perceive depth, recognize colors, and react to something in the road can be impaired at night, not to mention headlights from oncoming traffic, which can momentarily blind a driver. 

Blind-spot monitoring: Helping to see what you can’t 

Blind-spot monitoring, according to Kelly Blue Book, monitors the space just off the rear-quarter areas of you’re the vehicle where a car approaching from behind in the next lane might go undetected. 

BSM (Blind-Spot Monitoring) detects what your eyes may miss and issues a warning as a vehicle approaches in an adjacent lane. Once found only in high-end cars, this feature now can now be found in economy cars, too. On those models where BSM isn’t standard, it’s available as an option. 

High-beam assist: Automatic shut-off 

Cars have low-beam and high-beam headlight modes, which can affect the degree of illumination of the road ahead.  

  • High-beam assist uses photosensors or a camera or both to detect light sources such as the headlights of oncoming cars and trucks. When headlights or taillights are detected, the system automatically switches your headlights from high-beam to low-. According to the NHTSA, this feature automatically switches the headlights between the lower beam and the higher beam depending on the circumstances, which can include lighting conditions and any approaching vehicles.  

Help staying in your lane 

Advance driver-assistance system technology, or ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems), can help reduce human error by controlling vehicle steering, acceleration, and deceleration. Many new vehicles are equipped with systems that can help the driver steer. The best, according to Consumer Reports members surveyed, ease stress during highway drives. Among these systems are: 

  • Lane-Departure Warning (LDW), which provides visual, audible, and/or tactile warnings—such as through steering wheel or seat vibrations—to alert the driver when the car approaches or crosses lane markings. Road conditions can pose a potential obstacle when using this sort of technology, according to a AAA study. Most drivers said they were “very satisfied” with LDW.  
  • Lane Keeping Assist (LKA) goes a step further and, according to the NHTSA, has the capacity to actually “correct[] the steering, brakes or accelerates one or more of the wheels, or do a combination of both, resulting in the vehicle returning to its lane of travel.” Lane Keeping Assist, or LKA, like Lane Departure Warning, depends on clear roadway markings. Cameras can become confused by faded or covered markings. The actual implementation of this technology depends on the particular car model.  

 A 2014 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) research report showed that 40 percent of fatal crashes involved drivers who inadvertently strayed from their lane—usually because of fatigue, distraction, or incapacitation, the top three causes of listing, according to reports by Kelley Blue Book.  

Staying within the boundaries of a lane is a core capability of advanced driver-assistance systems. Although streets full of self-driving cars may be decades away, lane-keeping assist can be a useful feature on our roads. 

Help parking – yes, even parallel 

Do you enjoy parking?  

We didn’t think so. 

Well, thanks to advances in technology, backing-and-forthing your car into a spot along the curb or squeezing into a narrow opening encroached upon by the space hog in the next spot may have gotten easier; depending on what car you drive and what kind of system is installed on it, your vehicle may do the heavy-lifting for you – or at least help. 

Less-sophisticated systems sound an alarm when they detect a nearby object. More-sophisticated ones provide automatic braking and automated parking aid.  

A self-parking system can parallel park or diagonally park a car with little input from the driver. Automatic parallel parking technology can help guide drivers into a parking spot by detecting objects in front and back of a car while parking.  

As with any advanced driver assistance system, the actual use and operation will depend on the make and model. Drivers should consult the owner’s manual.  

Hurt in a car? Call William Mattar 

Despite the many ways motor vehicles have been made safer over the years, many drivers and occupants of cars and trucks still are injured in crashes. That’s where we come in. If you’ve been hurt in a motor-vehicle accident, the experienced personal injury attorneys at William Mattar, P.C. can help you assert a claim for pain and suffering and advocate for you to receive maximum compensation. Just give us a call, at 844-444-4444, or complete our online form requesting a free consultation. 

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