Best car safety features to look out for when buying a car

Here are the top safety features buyers should look out for when buying a car.

Cars have never been safer than they are now. Recall, for instance the Fiat Grande Punto which, when it was launched in 2005, was awarded a five-star Euro NCAP (European New Car Assessment Programme) rating for safety and how, by 2018, with the design largely unchanged, the same car did not receive a single star when retested. While there’s a bit more nuance to that, the basic idea stands — newer cars are particularly safe and it’s largely down to both clever engineering and a raft of modern technologies.

In 2022, whether you’re buying something brand new or at the less expensive and older end of the market, you can reasonably expect at least a few basic pieces of safety technology. Anti-lock brakes, which prevent the wheels from locking-up under heavy braking (hence allowing the driver to steer), has been standard on all cars in Europe since 2004. Electronic Stability Control, another system that can prevent a loss of control, has been standard since 2012. The three-point safety belt designed by Volvo in the 1950s has saved millions of lives globally and, as for airbags and ISOFIX child seat mounts, the more the merrier. A strong, well-designed body that effectively dissipates energy in a crash is another must, and this can be checked by examining a breakdown of a car’s score on the Euro NCAP website.

Over the last decade too, a number of key pieces of active safety technology relying on sensors and cameras have either become standard due to industry norms or through legislation, and while they do add complexity and expense to new cars, they also save lives. Here are some of the ones to look out for when buying a new car.

Tyre pressure monitoring

Considering the importance of correctly inflated tyres and that, let’s face it, most motorists don’t check the condition of their tyres as often as they should, tyre pressure monitoring is a small yet very useful safety feature to have on a car. The system uses sensors to ensure the tyre pressure stays above a certain level and illuminates a light on the dash if it detects that one of the tyres may be losing air. If addressed quickly, tyre pressure monitoring can be a great early-warning system that may help you avoid becoming stranded with a flat tyre, or have a blowout while driving at higher speeds.

Autonomous Emergency Braking

Autonomous Emergency Braking is now mandatory on all new cars sold in Europe and uses some combination of laser, radar, cameras and sensors to monitor the road ahead. If it senses that the car is rapidly approaching another object, it will audibly alert the driver to a potential collision and, if they fail to act, automatically apply the brakes to reduce the speed and impact of the crash. At low speeds and in ideal conditions, Autonomous Emergency Braking can prevent an accident entirely.

Blind spot monitoring

Blind spot monitoring is a feature that uses sensors (often mounted on the side mirrors) to alert a driver to another vehicle that may be in their blind spot when changing between lanes of traffic. The presence of another vehicle in a driver’s blind spot is usually shown by lights on the door mirrors and if the driver indicates to change lanes while there’s another car in their blind spot, they may receive an audio warning to dissuade them from making the move.

Cross traffic alert

Reversing or nosing out of a blind parking space or junction can be fraught with danger from passing vehicles or for pedestrians. Rear and front cross traffic alert uses cameras and sensors to detect any vehicles or pedestrians that may be about to cross the path of the car, alerting the driver to their presence in situations where visibility is limited. This can be an especially useful safety feature either around town or for those with blind driveways.

Driver fatigue alert

Driver fatigue alert systems look for signs that the driver may be showing signs of fatigue, tiredness or distraction and, in some cases can sound an alert or vibrate the seat to indicate the driver needs to stop and take a break. In most cars fitted with the system though, a simple visual warning appears on the dash. Given that driver fatigue is causal factor in one in five fatal crashes in Ireland every year, a driver fatigue alert system can be a helpful reminder to stop, grab a coffee and maybe a short twenty-minute nap.

Lane Keeping Assist

On the subject of driver fatigue and distraction, one of the most common symptoms is a driver losing focus on a motorway and drifting between lanes. Basic lane-keeping systems have been around for years, alerting drivers if they’re in danger of crossing the white line by either an audio warning or vibrating steering wheel or seat. More modern “active” systems can actually make steering adjustments themselves if they detect that the driver is about to stray over the line, potentially preventing a serious collision and really letting the driver know that it’s time to either pay attention or take a break. Lane-keeping systems often come as part of an Adaptive Cruise Control package, another feature often found on new cars that can help alleviate some of the driver workload on long journeys.