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Are Newer Cars Safer than Older Ones?

Without question, newer cars are safer to drive than older ones. The older the manufacturing date of your vehicle, the more technology updates and innovations it is missing that enhance its overall safety.

Continual advancements in safety design and technologies have made current-generation vehicles significantly safer than their older counterparts. Much of the credit goes to the development of active and passive safety technologies that help to prevent accidents and minimize damage when they do occur.

An active safety system helps to prevent accidents in many ways with the help of electronic safety devices. A passive safety system helps to protect passengers when an accident occurs.

The combination of active and passive safety systems helps to make modern vehicles much safer than older ones. The combination also helps to greatly lower vehicular death rates and car accidents.

Reduction in Fatality Rates Affirm Increased Safety

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) says road travel has become much safer over the years. There were 275.9 million registered vehicles and 228 million licensed drivers in the United States in 2020.

NHTSA says those motorists and vehicles traveled more than 2.9 billion miles and accounted for 42,338 traffic fatalities in 2020. The nation recorded 18.65 deaths for every 100 million miles driven in 1923. NHTSA says that number is down to 1.46 deaths per 100 million miles driven in 2020 – a 92 percent decrease.

NHTSA also says that the average age of a used car on the road today is 11.6 years. Those used vehicles do not share the same safety technology that is included with current production vehicles, but they are significantly safer than their predecessors.

NHTSA data show vehicles built before 1985 have a fatality rate of 55 percent. Those are vehicles whose only safety system is a seatbelt.

Other build years and their respective fatality rates are:

  • 2008-2012: 31 percent
  • 2003-2007: 36 percent
  • 1998-2002: 42 percent
  • 1993-1997: 46 percent
  • 1985-1992: 53 percent

The improving death rates confirm the efforts to improve vehicle safety are effective. Unfortunately, many people are driving vehicles that were built at least a decade ago.

Overview of Active Safety Systems

An active safety system is one that helps to prevent accidents from happening. Anti-lock brake systems are among the first active safety systems used on vehicles.

  • Anti-lock brakes prevent drivers from slamming on the brakes and losing control in a panic stop. Instead, the anti-lock brakes enable the vehicle to come to a more controlled stop and prevent accidents from happening.

More recently, adaptive cruise control with automated braking, blind spot monitoring, and lane-keeping assistance are among active safety systems that came into common use on vehicles.

  • Adaptive cruise control automatically adjusts speed to maintain a safe following distance. The automated braking component slows vehicles and can make them come to a stop when the system detects a slow or stopped vehicle or object in the road.
  • Blind spot monitoring keeps an eye on the blind spots to detect other vehicles. If you try to change lanes while a vehicle is in your blind spot, the system will either warn you or stop you from doing it.
  • Lane-keeping assistance will help to stop your vehicle from drifting out of your lane. That could help to stop you from driving off of the road or into another vehicle.

Many more active systems also are in use or are being adapted to help prevent accidents and boost passenger safety. Such systems can use a variety of technologies to make your vehicle much safer to drive. Those technologies include radar, sonar, and cameras to detect other vehicles and objects in or on the roadway.

Unfortunately, active safety systems are costly due to their reliance upon electronics and technology to make them work. More active safety systems add up to higher prices for new cars, which NHTSA says now averages nearly $40,000.

Overview of Passive Safety Systems

Passive safety systems generally do nothing until a collision or another type of vehicle upset happens. Seatbelts and crumple zones are examples of commonly used passive safety systems.

Seatbelts are among the first passive safety systems to see widespread use and became mandatory in the 1970s. Prior to a federal mandate for seatbelts, many vehicles only included them as an option.

Many early seatbelts also only belted you across your lap. Your torso still could fly forward and slam into the steering wheel or dash, which often resulted in serious chest injuries.

Current seatbelts use a three-point harness that goes across your lap and over the shoulder that is nearest the outside of the car. Automatic tensioning systems within them will tighten suddenly upon impact and make the seatbelts more effective.

Crumple zones are designed to absorb impact energy and make accidents more survivable. The design of the passenger cabin creates a relatively safe space that is more rigid and capable of protecting those inside the vehicle. Crumple zones and rigid passenger cabins complement each other and help to make accidents more survivable.

Air Bags and Child Safety Seats Add to Passenger Safety

Air bags also have helped to make accidents more survivable. The sudden deployment of one or more air bags helps to cushion your body from slamming into the steering wheel, dash, or windshield during a collision. A side air bag can help to stop your head and side from slamming into the side of the vehicle.

More air bags are being developed, including overhead air bags that could help to protect against injuries in rollover accidents. Unfortunately, air bags could be dangerous for young children or the elderly. The potential danger to smaller passengers is why you can turn off passenger air bags.

Child safety seats also can help to protect young children against injuries during accidents. Many states require their use, and you must install them properly to help ensure the safety of your most precious passengers.

NHTSA Safety Standards Promote Use of Safety Systems

Advancements in vehicular safety will continue, even as more people become licensed to drive and more vehicles are registered for use on public roads. NHTSA supports continual safety improvements to make driving safer.

NHTSA annually rates the safety of new vehicles, and carmakers want to have the coveted five-star safety rating. Obtaining that rating becomes more challenging as NHTSA adds new active and passive safety systems to the requirements for earning the maximum safety rating.

NHTSA officials realize more technology raises the prices of vehicles. They also can make it costlier to perform various maintenance and repairs. So the agency tries to balance the cost while still encouraging the continual improvement of safety systems.

No Substitute for Safe Driving

Active and passive safety systems are helping to make accidents less frequent and more survivable. Unfortunately, road fatalities and catastrophic injuries will continue to happen because there is no substitute for safe driving.

Safety systems can help to overcome driver error, but they cannot overcome negligent driving. Speeding, drinking and driving, and distracted driving are certain to continue, and so are the injuries and fatalities that they often cause during vehicular accidents.

Some motorists have become too reliant upon active safety systems. Occasional news reports show that motorists in so-called self-driving vehicles are getting into accidents by ignoring the road while the self-driving systems take over.

The current state of self-driving technology is not good enough to make it safe to sit in a vehicle and let the technology do the driving. The same goes for the active and passive safety systems.

A driver who relies too much on safety systems to prevent accidents is liable for causing accidents. There are no excuses for negligent driving. Offending drivers can be held accountable with the help of an experienced car accident lawyer.

Get Help from a Dayton Car Accident Lawyer at Wright & Schulte LLC

If you were injured in an accident, an experienced Dayton car accident lawyer at Wright & Schulte can help you to hold an at-fault driver accountable. You can call (937) 435-7500 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation. With our offices located in Dayton, we proudly serve clients in Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Centerville, Toledo, Youngstown, and Miamisburg