10 Best Car Safety Features

Car insurance discounts for safety features can save you up to 8% on your rates each month. Reduce your bill by installing a rear-view camera or emergency response systems.

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A former insurance producer, Laura understands that education is key when it comes to buying insurance. She has happily dedicated many hours to helping her clients understand how the insurance marketplace works so they can find the best car, home, and life insurance products for their needs.

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Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He has an MBA from the University of South Florida. Jo...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder & CFP®

UPDATED: Sep 2, 2021

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Here's what you need to know...

  • Safety features have not always been a focal point for car industries
  • These features were taken more seriously starting in the 1950’s
  • Seat belts and airbags were two of the earliest safety gadgets to come standard in automobiles
  • Newer models often have additional technologies to aid in safety and accident prevention

When the first car, the Ford Model T, made its way onto the scene in the early 20th century, it was an innovative piece of technology that paved the way for a new era of vehicles and how that industry would be treated. But even though the Model T ushered in an era of change, it was not very safe.

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The first cars had no seat belts or windshield wipers, or even a hard roof. Even though it was not very fast, the Model T was still a bit dangerous to control. Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since then, and along the way the industry has focused on safety as well as speed and fuel economy. Safety technologies have become much more advanced since becoming a major focal point of most vehicles.

Read further to find the 10 car safety gadgets that we all need.

What is the history behind safety features in vehicles?

The first few decades that cars were available, they were very dangerous. There was not much progress in car safety features in the early 20th century, because the general population and automobile industry as a whole were very resistant to any type of advancement.

The reason the public was so resistant was because of a lack of interest. The public felt that most new safety features were unnecessary, and were given mixed reviews about the benefits of safety features like seat belts and better control while behind the wheel.

Every time a safety organization released a report on the benefits of things like seat belts with a warning against driving without one, the automotive industry would release a report that indicated that seat belts themselves were dangerous or just not very effective.

It was not until the 1950’s that attitudes about car safety began to change.

This change was in large part due to the country’s doctors becoming more outspoken about the need for car safety improvements. The doctors regularly saw the horrible effects of poor safety features with car accident victims in their hospitals.

By the mid-1950’s, the auto industry had started making small strides in the area of car safety.

Some of these small improvements included adding padding to areas that the driver’s head might hit in an accident, along with padded dashboards, improved airbags, better door locks, and steering wheels that were better at absorbing force.

Also during this time, seat belts became a more available option, though they were still not mandatory or considered standard equipment that would come with a car.

Due to the tireless efforts of safety advocates like Ralph Nader, Congress eventually launched a full safety investigation into the entire automotive industry in the mid-1960s.

As a result, the National Highway Traffic Safety Act was created in 1966. Two years after this act was passed, shoulder harness seat belts were required in all cars.

Today, the new advancements in car safety do not focus so much on preventing injuries in the event of an accident, but preventing the accidents themselves. With more and more tests being run in the name of safety, cars now see a plethora of helpful driver assistance technologies.

Despite the early resistance to car safety, the modern auto industry makes it their main focus.

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What are the five most common safety features offered in cars?

#1 – Seat Belt

The most recognizable car safety feature is the seat belt.

It is hard to believe that, for the first sixty to seventy years cars were around, seat belts were rarely available and often scoffed at. Currently, in the United States, seat belts save around 13,000 lives a year. Because of this, seat belts are required to be worn by adults in all states except New Hampshire. Lap belts won’t cut it, either – you have to have the shoulder harness style in your car.

#2 – Airbag

Probably the second most recognizable car safety feature is the airbag.

Airbags have not been required as long as seat belts–only since 1998–but they are a safety feature that most people think of first.

In a direct front-end car accident, the airbag reduces the risk of death by almost 30 percent. While seat belts are about as effective as they will ever be, advancements are still being made with airbags. Many people should be familiar with the crash tests that show how airbags work, and how importantly this feature was stressed.

Today, passenger-side airbags are just as common as driver-side airbags, and airbags located on the sides of the car are becoming more and more common.

#3 – Anti-Lock Brakes

Anti-lock brakes do not help in the event of an accident but help to prevent an accident altogether. In slippery conditions, it is dangerous for the car’s braking system to lock up, so the anti-lock brake system pulses and pumps the brakes to keep the car from skidding. It’s a great way to stay in control even while having to suddenly brake.

#4 – Safety Glass

Safety glass was first installed on cars in the 1920’s.

Safety glass is another common car safety feature. It is made by placing a plastic film between two sheets of glass. This plastic causes the glass to crack instead of breaking into shards. This helps to keep both driver and passenger safe in the event of an accident or flyaway piece of debris on the highway.

#5 – Four-Wheel Drive

Lastly, four-wheel drive helps to improve the car’s traction on wet road conditions. Four-wheel drive also causes the car’s tires to wear more evenly, which saves in tire replacement costs. It’s a lot more costly to replace individual wheels than it is to buy them in sets.

Are there any other features out there?

In addition to the common safety features mentioned above, there are several advancements that now come standard in newer makes and models. Advancements are being made from all angles; from a simple backup alert to a more complex warning even as the driver is cruising down the road.

#1 – Emergency Response Systems

Emergency response systems like OnStar are one of these features.

An emergency response system allows the driver to make hands-free phone calls and connects them to emergency personnel in the event of an accident. Originally only available in GM cars, OnStar can now be bought and installed in any car. As far as optional equipment goes, this would be a handy addition to have no matter how often or how far you have to drive your car.

#2 – Rear-View Cameras

Rear-view cameras wereoriginally invented for construction vehiclesbut are now regularly available on larger automobiles like SUVs. In larger vehicles, the basic rear view mirror does not always give a full picture of what is behind the driver. Rear view cameras solve this issue, with some even going as far as to give an alert if anything is behind you as you’re backing up.

#3 – Pre-Crash Collision Systems

Pre-crash collision systems are a newer car safety development.

Pre-crash collision systems use modern radar technology to determine how close the car is to another car and the driving speed.

When the system senses that the driver’s car is too close to another car–depending on the system–it will either provide audible alerts to warn the driver, or actually cause the brakes to compress, slowing or stopping the car.

#4 – Blind Spot Detection

Blind spot detection is also known as lane change assist technology. The majority of vehicles have a blind spot. This means that the driver cannot always see a car that is beside them when they are trying to change lanes.

With camera and radar technology, a warning light will come on the car’s rear view mirror, and sometimes even in the side view mirrors when it senses a car alongside it. This can be incredibly helpful if the car next to you doesn’t stay within the lane markings and you don’t notice. Clipping them could, in a worst case scenario, lead to a pile up, especially on an expressway. With this helpful piece of technology, potential collisions due to human error can be avoided entirely!

#5 – Child Safety Seats

Even though most people today may not consider child safety seats to be a modern advancement in car safety, in relation to the history of the car, they are a fairly new development that continues to be improved. There have been a lot of tests involving child seats, to find out what can improve them and make them safer for children.

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