Safety is one of the most important features to look for when deciding what car to buy. Since safety depends on a number of factors, it is not possible to rate them as “safe” or “unsafe” in general. To make an informed decision, all the factors must be considered; this guide will help you look out for the right information.
If you are serious about finding a safe drive, one of the most important factors influencing your final decision should be the result your preferred model scored in crash tests carried out by an independent organisation called EuroNCAP (European New Car Assessment Programme). Every model of every brand is tested in the same way: they go through a head-on, side impact, crashing into a pedestrian and a pole. The vehicle is then rated 1 to 5, with 5 being the safest and 1 the least safe. More and more often, EuroNCAP ratings are being questioned, though; popular opinion has it that since the rating has become a standard way of assessing vehicle safety, car manufacturers are designing their new models to make them pass the tests rather than actually being safe regardless of the results. Whether you share the opinion or not, it is always better to know how many points a car scored before you consider buying it.
Most important systems designed to make driving safer
Driving safety is mostly increased by the equipment installed in the car. When looking for a new or second-hand car on the Internet, pay attention to the following elements:
They are one of the most important safety accessories a vehicle can have. A standard airbag protects the driver of passenger from head-on impact; there are, of course, other airbags available as well:
- side airbags (front and rear), placed at the side of the seat or at the door,
- knee airbag, mounted under the steering wheel column and opposite the passenger seat,
- floor airbag mounted under the floor; it protects the driver’s feet,
- middle rear seat airbag placed on the hip belt,
- curtain airbag mounted at the top of the door rails, which protects the passengers from the effects of roll-over and side impact
ISOFIX (International Organisation for Standardisation – ISO Fixture)
This system has been designed to increase the safety of children travelling in child seats; it consists of two attachment points for the child seat, manufactured directly into the vehicle.
ABS (Anti-Lock Braking System, Antiblockiersystem)
It is an element of the braking system which prevents locking the wheels while braking.
ASR (Acceleration slip regulation, Antriebsschlupfregelung)
This system prevents the wheels from slipping during acceleration. It can also improve traction when turning. Some car manufacturers use different names for the system, such as TCS (Traction control system), ASC+T, DSC (Dynamic stability control), or TC (Traction Control).
ESP (Electronic Stability Program, Fahrdynamikregelung)
This system improves vehicle stability using both the ABS and ASR; manufacturers also refer to it as VSC and STC.
ACC (Adaptive Cruise Control, Abstandsregeltempomat)
This system supports the cruise control by maintaining safe distance between your car and the car driving in front of it. Depending on the result of measurements, it accelerates or decelerates your vehicle. This system is also referred to as ICC (Intelligent Cruise Control) or DTR (Distronic, Speedtronic).
LDP – Lane Departure Prevention, Lane Assist, Spurhalteassistent)
This system prevents you from changing lanes involuntarily: if you attempt to change lanes without using the turning light, a notification will be displayed. If you fail to react, the system will automatically correct the position of the car, preventing you from leaving your lane.
Blind spot monitor (Spurwechselassistent)
This system substantially improves driving safety by warning you when a vehicle appears on either side lane in places where it might not be visible in the traditional mirror. It helps you change lanes safely.
Rain sensor (Regensensor)
This mechanism automatically turns on windshield wipers when it detects rain, and it adjusts their speed depending on rain intensity.
This sensor automatically turns on your headlights when it gets dark on the road: at dusk or when you drive into a tunnel. While it increases safety while driving abroad, it is less useful here in Poland since it is illegal to not have lights turned on in any road conditions. Dusk sensors may prove useful for those drivers who only drive using daytime running lights since they can only be used during the day.
Electrochromic side and rear view mirrors
These mirrors are self-dimming and self-lightening depending on how well lit the inside of the vehicle is and how much light there is outside. They are a great solution if you often drive at night since they help prevent the lights of other cars reflected in the mirror from blinding the driver.
This mechanism allows the vehicle to maintain a constant speed. It is very useful when driving motorways as well as in those places where you need to take special care not to exceed the speed limit, e.g. where section control applies.
If you need to look around when driving to find out where to turn to reach your destination, you are more likely to pay less attention to how safe your driving is. GPS often suggests when to change lanes, which saves you a lot of stress when driving in the city or on a motorway; it knows when you will be turning before you are able to see the road sign so you can react quicker.
Park assistance systems
A lot can happen when you are parking: you can damage your car or somebody else’s, or even drive into a pedestrian or a pet. When you are changing your car, it is good to look for one which has parking assist systems.
This system pretty much parks the car for you. It will find out how much space you have and move the steering wheel so you only need to use the brake and accelerator. Some premium class cars can actually park on their own, even when you have got out already, since they can operate the pedals as well.
Front and rear parking sensors
These sensors are commonly used in the more modern cars; they help you assess how much space there is between your car and whatever is around it when you are parking. The closer you get to an obstacle, the louder the system beeps.
This camera is turned on when you engage the reverse gear; it allows you to see the space behind the car on a monitor. It will be of great help to all those who often park in tighter spaces or anywhere you could bump into a pet or even a child.
Other vehicle elements that can increase driving safety
Driving can also be made much safer if you have a parking heater or if at least the windshield and side mirrors are heated. In winter, they save you the time you would spend removing the snow and make you see more. A multifunctional steering wheel is a helpful solution, too, since it allows you to use the devices installed in the car without the need to actually look at them. You can just focus on what is happening on the road.
Having listed all the useful accessories, we would like to finish on a more personal note: whatever extra equipment your car has, it will only help you if you are sober and pay attention to the road ahead. Your car must be in a good condition, too. These factors are so important that no additional extras, no matter how fancy, will help if you fail to take care of them first.