In the late 19th century, car safety features essentially extended to hiring someone to walk in front of your car waving a red flag, as a warning to pedestrians.
Now car safety features are getting so advanced that certain experts are seriously predicting a future in which road accidents are a thing of the past.
Things have certainly come far. And the exciting thing is that we have even further to go.
Common Car Safety Features
Just a few years ago, many car safety features that now come as standard would have been thought of as science-fiction.
Since 1998, all new cars have come fitted with front airbags. Adaptive airbags became standard in 2007, capable of preventing injury through detecting the position of drivers and front passengers and adjusting their power accordingly. Airbags have saved millions of lives, but now they’re safer than ever.
Seatbelts are arguably the most important of all car safety features. Even they are becoming increasingly advanced. Adjustable anchors make them more comfortable, and can help prevent neck injuries. Seatbelt pre-tensioners can work in harmony with your airbag to keep you fully protected during impact.
Anti-lock brake systems (ABS) prevent your wheels from locking when hard braking, which can prevent sliding on slippery surfaces. Electronic stability control (ESC) has come as standard since 2012. This is an advanced traction system that can vary your car’s engine power to keep you on course.
In recent years we’ve seen the introduction of accident avoidance systems. Brake assist systems work with the ABS to achieve the shortest possible stopping distance in the event of a panic stop. Forward collision warning (FCW) can work with automatic emergency braking (AEB) to help prevent accidents perhaps even before you’re aware there’s a risk. Adaptive cruise control can help you to automatically maintain a safe following distance with the cars in front.
We could go on. The point is: Car safety systems are only getting more sophisticated. But are they making any difference?
How Car Safety Features Affect Accident Rates
According to a recent study by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), 68.8% of new cars are fitted with at least one of these advanced self-activating safety system.
Sometimes these systems come fitted as standard, and sometimes they’re available as an optional extra. But they’re there: More than half of new cars are fitted with automatic emergency braking. 42% of new cars are available with overtaking sensors, while 36% of new cars come with adaptive cruise control.
And it seems that the systems work. Road accidents in the UK have fallen by nearly 10% since 2012.
The Future of Car Safety
In the future it looks like self-driving and connected cars will be the norm. Exactly how the technology will work remains to be seen. But those who are developing self-driving cars seem to envision a world in which not only are all cars autonomous, they’re also connected. All the cars in any given area will know the exact location of every other car in the area. And because destinations will be pre-programmed, these connected cars will know where each car is headed too.
It’s easy to see how this could affect car safety. If all cars are behaving so predictably, potentially hazardous situations can be anticipated and prevented long before they become a problem. And if all cars are able to behave so harmoniously, they can all move at the same speed with an optimally safe distance between them. Not only will this reduce accidents – or even eliminate them entirely – it could also result in shorter journey times, lower fuel and parking costs, and the end of traffic jams.
For the system to work, all cars will have to be self-driving. Obviously, we still have a long way to go there. And self-driving cars still need a lot of work before they’re ready to become the standard.
Until then, we’ll have to depend on three things to keep us safe on the roads: Sensible drivers, advanced car safety systems, and comprehensive insurance to keep everything covered in the event of an accident.