New Cars Don’t Have to Be Expensive to be Safe

Take a second to think about your vehicle’s safety features. Are they active or passive? How much did they hike up the cost? Your answers after buying a new car today may be totally different than if you purchased your car 5 years ago. Contradictory to what you may believe, there is a very weak correlation between the cash price of a new car today and its safety ratings. Here’s why…

Let’s talk safety features…

Passive safety features include components that lesson the impact of an accident. These features, among others, are your seat belts, air bags, and hopefully a strong vehicle frame. Remember, it is always good to know what to do before, during, and after an accident.

Active safety features on the other hand, are what seem to be the highlight of all media attention, no matter what brand of car ad your being subjected to. These are features that help avoid accidents like good brakes, run-flat tires, and responsive steering, as well as more complex systems such as lane departure warning systems, emergency braking, and exterior cameras.

Advanced active safety features like emergency braking and lane departure warning systems are becoming the standard for high-end trim options. The existence of these features has increased safety, but are not correlated with the sudden increase of safety standards that we are seeing.

Cars are getting safer across the board. Since 2012, the number of models with 5-star safety ratings skyrocketed from only 25% to nearly 70% in 2015. Vehicles with 4 and 4.5-star ratings are at an all-time high as well.


Passive safety equipment is likely to be the reason. Air bags, high-strength steel frames, crumble zones, and all of the various technologies used for the last decade to reduce injury during a crash were maximized. These systems are now faster, stronger, have better coverage, and are made from higher-end materials but they still can’t stop you from texting and driving. The ever-expanding safety standards from organizations like the NHTSA keep auto manufactures on their toes, and the market place is consistently thirsty for the newest technology. Between the two, cars are becoming safer. That extra safety alone is no longer driving up the costs, and that is where it gets convoluted.

Advanced active safety features are available at all price levels, so what are you really paying for?

Your Buying Automation, Not Crash Protection

Consumers often mistake luxury for safety. A higher price tag will only buy owners more autonomous technology, which in turn may help keep the driver from making a mistake. It would be false to say that this kind of technology does not make the vehicle safer, but these features often do nothing to protect you during a wreck. These additional active safety packages and upgrades do play a factor in earning higher safety ratings, as the NHTSA does consider the availability of these systems for the overall rating. Many of these advanced active safety systems do also dramatically increase the price tag and cost to repair, especially without a warranty.

Many make and models without options like “Rearview Cameras” and “Autonomous Braking” are being awarded 4 and 5-star safety ratings from the NHTSA. This is due to the advancements in crash protection equipment, rather than crash avoidance or prevention. While it is nice to have a backup camera, that doesn’t mean those models are going to protect you any more than the basic model when in a head-on collision. It still comes down to you to drive safely. A large SUV may be easier to drive with a lane-departure warning system, but that doesn’t mean it will protect you more than a smaller, less expensive sedan in a rollover crash. However to be fair, Vehicles with abnormally low safety ratings do fall under the cheaper category as demonstrated below. After all you get what you pay for, and even good passive safety features will add value to the vehicle.

In summary

If safety is your goal, you want to aim at buying newer models. A newer model with a 4 or 5-star safety rating should not be hard to find, no matter what style you are favoring or what your budget is. Do not let yourself be tricked into thinking that you need to dish out extra cash for high-end active safety features, unless you have the money and want less stress behind the wheel. Quality passive safety features are what will protect you during a wreck, and are the most important features when purchasing a safe vehicle. Also keep in mind that safety ratings change for many vehicles as new tests are done throughout the year.

A Brief Safety History From the NHTSA

1970- The federal government established the NHTSA, giving the organization power to set national safety guidelines for all automobiles sold in the US. Seatbelts had become federal law two years prior.

1978- The NHTSA is performing crash-tests to all makes and models in order to develop an honest rating system.
1993- NHTSA starts using the 5-star rating system, and continues to use it today. Airbags became required by federal law 4 years later in 1998 models.

2004- Online access to the NHTSA safety ratings are made readily available, shining the light on major issues with certain manufactures, and prompting new safety features.

And by 2015- A new rating system was released as technology was getting ever better. Pressure was put onto auto manufactures to release crash avoidance technology, crash protection advances, and to focus on pedestrian lives as well.

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