safest cars to drive
it comes to buying a car, speed
and style aren't the first consideration
for many of today's consumers. Safety
good news is that today's cars are
far safer than those manufactured
even five years ago. Advances in crash
and accident avoidance technology
mean that consumers who buy a new
car equipped with the latest safety
features stand far less chance of
being killed or seriously injured
in a car crash than those who drive
years ago when we started our front
crash tests, it was rare for a vehicle
to earn a good rating," says
Russ Rader, a spokesperson for the
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety,
an independent nonprofit organization.
"In some cases, the vehicle would
simply collapse in the crash and we'd
have to cut the dummy out from the
front seat. But now we've only had
one vehicle in the last three years
that earned a poor rating in the frontal
crash testing -- that is a rare exception."
advances such as second-generation
airbags, electronic stability control,
brake assist, tire pressure monitors
and smart headlights continue to revolutionize
car safety. While many of these features
aren't standard on many cars, most
are available in a wide range of models.
Here's a rundown of the latest safety
front airbags. While front airbags
are standard in all cars, some were
causing injuries when deployed. The
new adaptive systems can sense whether
a passenger has fastened his or her
seat belt and how severe the crash
is likely to be so that the airbags
airbags. Front airbags were a huge
safety advance, but they don't protect
passengers in all types of crash situations.
Side airbags for passengers in front
and rear seats protect passengers'
torsos in a crash.
curtain airbags. Head injuries are
the worst kind of crash injury. Side
curtain airbags, which deploy downwards
from an area above the windows, are
not only designed to protect passengers
from head injuries, but also can keep
passengers from being ejected from
a car when it rolls over.
airbags. Designed for the driver and
front-row passenger, these airbags
deploy at knee level to protect your
legs in a front-end collision.
stability control. This feature helps
drivers avoid accidents -- especially
SUV rollovers -- by keeping a vehicle
from sliding or skidding out of control.
Sensors in a vehicle can tell how
fast a car is going, where it is being
steered and if it is spinning, and
will apply brakes and, in some models,
reduce the power of the engine to
keep the car on its intended path.
Electronic stability control is known
by different names from different
car manufacturers, so if you're interested
in the feature ask your salesperson
what it's called.
assist. An add-on technology to the
anti-lock brake systems standard in
most cars today, brake assist senses
how forcefully or fast the driver
is pressing the brake pedal, and will
make sure that anti-lock brakes are
deploying, which can aid drivers in
pressure monitors. With all the publicity
about tire blowouts a few years ago,
most drivers are aware of the danger
that under-inflated tires pose. While
the government is considering mandating
that all new vehicles have such a
monitor, it probably won't happen
for a couple of years. So some manufacturers
are incorporating this system into
headlights. These new headlights,
made from intensely bright xenon bulbs,
incorporate sensors that control headlights
so the driver can see the road better.
Currently, these are only available
as options on very high-end cars,
including some BMW, Mercedes, Lexus,
Acura, Audi and Porsche models.
alert systems. Several car manufacturers,
including GM and Lexus, include this
feature in safety and security car
systems such as OnStar, which notifies
police and fire departments if you
are in an accident.
car seats. Studies show that many
parents install child car safety seats
incorrectly, which can lead to severe
injury or death in a crash. Some car
makers are including built-in car
seats in models designed for families,
such as mini-vans.
It's easy to want every single safety
feature you can get, at least until
you see how much they cost. Many luxury
car makers include most of these features
in their models, especially their
high-end models, but those models
can run US$40,000 and up for a new
And some of the newest features, such
as knee airbags, aren't yet standard
in virtually any make or model. Costs
vary widely: Smart headlights, for
example, can cost you between US$800
and US$1,200 on the models where they
are available, while electronic stability
control runs anywhere from US$600
you have to choose between safety
features, Mark Bilek, automotive editor
at Consumer Guide Automotive, recommends
side curtain airbags, which cost between
US$300 and US$800 as an add-on, or
may be bundled with other features.
believe that side curtain airbags
are the most important safety feature
you can add to your car purchase,"
he says. "While side collisions
aren't as prevalent as front-end collisions,
you don't have the cushion of the
front-end in such a crash, so your
head is more likely to hit the window
or the pillar more quickly, causing
a severe head injury."
new cars are so expensive, it's tempting
to drive your old clunker into the
ground. But many consumers who do
this are being penny wise and pound
foolish says Brian Moody, road test
editor at Edmunds.com.
you have a car that is six or eight
years old, you have to realize that
the technology has really advanced
and that newer cars are much safer.
Car makers are doing a lot, for example,
with improving the front end of cars,
which is known as the crumple zone,
so that the car absorbs more of the
impact in a crash. You won't find
that in an older car."
Guide Automotive's Bilek notes that
there are steps you can take beyond
buying a new car with expensive safety
features to improve your chances of
avoiding an accident. He recommends
snow tires, or at a minimum, all-season
tires, to consumers living in snow-belt
states. "Getting snow tires or
better, all-weather tires, is one
of the cheapest things you can do
to improve your traction control in
slippery or snowy weather, even more
than features such as all-wheel drive,"
snow tires, he says that winter wiper
blades help keep the windshield clear
in icy and snowy weather, as do newer
window washer fluids that have de-icing
capabilities. But the best safety
feature is one that too many consumers
don't use -- seat belts. If you don't
use your seat belt, all the other
safety features in your car won't
work as well because you lack that
vital primary restraint.
cars by model
Consumer Reports rates cars for reliability,
and also provides a separate rating
for safety that is included in the
overall reliability score. "We're
the only ones that do a safety rating
that combines crash protection and
accident avoidance into one score,"
says Gabe Shenhar, senior auto test
engineer and special publications
program manager for Consumers Union.
terms of crash protection, Consumer
Reports relies on tests conducted
by the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration and the Insurance Institute
for Highway Safety, which both conduct
independent crash tests and make their
data available to consumers. NHTSA
bases its ratings on full-frontal
and side-impact collisions. IIHS conducts
offset-front crashes, a common type
of front-end collision, and in 2003
started conducting side-impact collision
Reports currently uses all the NHTSA
results and the IIHS offset-front
crash tests and may begin to include
the IIHS side-impact collision testing
once more results become available,
Shenhar says. Consumer Reports weighs
results based on how important its
experts consider each variable.
far as accident avoidance goes, auto
testing staff members put a car through
various road maneuvers designed to
test a car's braking, acceleration,
emergency handling, visibility, driving
position and seat comfort. A car's
performance in emergency handling
and braking contribute most heavily
to the accident avoidance rating,
according to Consumers Union.
magazine published results for 101
new and redesigned 2005 models in
October. More results will be available
in the April 2005 issue. Consumer
Reports breaks down its ratings into
the following categories:
Five best: Honda Civic EX, Volkswagen
Jetta GLS TDI, Ford Focus ZX4, Mini
Cooper and Volkswagen New Beetle Turbo
Two worst: Hyundai Elantra GLS and
Chevrolet Cavalier LS.
Five best: Mazda 6s and I, Volkswagen
Passant GLX, Nissan Maxima 3.5 SE,
Honda Accord EX and Volkswagen Passant
Two worst: Kia Optima EX and Ford
Taurus SES/Mercury Sable LS.
and luxury sedans
Five best: Lexus IS300, Mercedes-Benz
E-Class E320, Acura TL and TSX, Volvo
S80 T6 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class C320.
Two worst: Cadillac CTS and Volvo
Four best: Ford Crown Victoria LX/Mercury
Grand Marquis LSE, Toyota Avalon XLS,
Lincoln Town Car Signature and Buick
Park Avenue Ultra.
Two worst: Pontiac Bonneville SE and
Buick LeSabre Limited.
Four best: Ford Freestar SEL/Mercury
Monterey, Nissan Quest 3.5 SL, Toyota
Sienna LE and Mazda MPV ES.
Two worst: Kia Sedona EX and Chrysler
Town & Country SXT/Dodge Grand
Four best: Subaru Forester 2.5x, Honda
Element EX, Honda CR-V EX and Saturn
Three worst: Kia Sorento LX, Jeep
Liberty Sport and Pontiac Aztek.
Six best: Infiniti FX35, Lexus RX330,
Chrysler Pacifica, Toyota Highlander
Limited, Cadillac SRX and Nissan Murano
Three worst: Ford Explorer XLT 4WD,
Buick Rendezvous CL and Chevrolet
TrailBlazer SLT/GMC Envoy SLE.
crew cab pickups
Three best: Ford F-150 XLT, Toyota
Tundra SR5 and Dodge Ram 150SLT (5.7
Worst: Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Z71/GMC