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Shopping for a safer car

If you’re like most people shopping for a new car, safety ranks high among things you’re looking for. Every new car must meet certain federal safety standards, but that doesn’t mean that all cars are equally safe. There are still important safety differences. Many automakers offer safety features beyond the required federal minimums. The following safety features should be considered when purchasing a car.

Crashworthiness
These features reduce the risk of death or serious injury when a crash occurs. You can get a rating of crashworthiness from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s website at http://www.highwaysafety.org.

Vehicle structural design
A good structural design has a strong occupant compartment, known as the safety cage, as well as front and rear ends designed to buckle and bend in a crash to absorb the force of a crash. These crush zones should keep damage away from the safety cage because once the cage starts to collapse, the likelihood of injury increases rapidly.

Vehicle size and weight
The laws of physics dictate that larger and heavier cars are safer than lighter and smaller ones. Small cars have twice as many occupant deaths each year as large cars.

Restraint systems
Seatbelts, air bags and head restraints all work together with a vehicle’s structure to protect people in serious crashes. Lap/shoulder belts hold you in place, reducing the chance you’ll slam into something hard or get ejected from the vehicle.

  • Air bags and lap/shoulder belts together are very effective. The greatest risk of injury from an inflating airbag is if you’re on top of, or very close to, an air bag when it starts to inflate. Choose a car that allows you to reach the gas and brake pedals comfortably without sitting too close to the steering wheel.
  • Side air bags are designed principally to protect your chest. They may also keep your head from hitting interior or intruding structures.
  • Head restraints are required in front seats of all new passenger cars to keep your head from being snapped back and injuring your neck in a rear-end crash. To prevent neck injury, a head restraint has to be directly behind and close to the back of your head. Look for cars that have this type of restraint. If the restraints are adjustable, make sure they can be locked into place.

Anti-lock brakes
When you brake hard with conventional brakes, the wheels may lock and cause skidding and a lack of control. Anti-lock brakes pump brakes automatically many times a second to prevent lockup and allow you to keep control of the car. If you were trained to brake gently on slippery roads or pump your brakes to avoid a skid, you may need to learn new habits and use hard, continuous pressure to activate your anti-lock brakes. Anti-lock brakes may help you keep steering control, but they won’t necessarily help you stop more quickly.

Daytime running lights
The ignition switch activates these lights. They are typically high-beam headlights at reduced intensity or low-beam lights at full or reduced power. By increasing the contrast between vehicles and their backgrounds, and making the vehicle more visible to oncoming drivers, these lights can prevent daytime accidents.

Source: Insurance Information Institute

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