How Can I Know I'm Buying a Safe Car?

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Angel Law, P.C.

Tigard, OR

Choosing a new car for your family should certainly include some research into the safety of the vehicle, and its ability to protect the passengers in the event of an accident. Here are some important places to check out before making the final decision on a new car purchase.

Where Can I Find Safe Car Reports?

Every year approximately 42,000 lives are lost to car accidents on the nation's highways; this includes vehicle accidents involving SUV's, pickups, motorcycles and vans as well as more typical passenger cars or sedans. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), of those fatal crashes, sixty-one percent involve only one vehicle, meaning the driver of a vehicle loses control and crashes without colliding with another vehicle. Oregon alone had 377 reported traffic fatalities in 2009 due to car accidents. With these kinds of car accident numbers, it's more and more important that the vehicles we purchase have the safety features to protect us in the event that we're involved in an accident. But which vehicle, make, model, and manufacturer offers the best in safety features and proven safety quality?

Selecting the safest vehicle for yourself and your family can pose a difficult task because there are so many sources of information regarding vehicle safety, and sometimes the information seems conflicting. In part one of this article we survey of a couple of sources of vehicle safety information from internet sites that are informative as well as reliable. In part two of this article we will go over some of the specific safety features that you should be aware of when it comes to selecting a new automobile, truck or SUV.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

One of the first sites to consult for vehicle safety information is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or NHTSA. The government for their part has been testing new vehicles since the late 1970's to ensure that certain safety standards are being met when it comes to motorized transportation. Based on these tests the government rates a vehicle on a 5-star system for frontal impact, side impact, and rollover crash safety. And beginning this year, 2011, the NHTSA has begun to recognize vehicles equipped with Advanced Crash Avoidance Technologies. There are three Advanced Crash Avoidance Technologies that the NHTSA now recommends: Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Forward Collision Warning (FCW), and Lane Departure Warning (LDW).

In part two of this article we will explain these features in more detail. However, a wealth of consumer information can be found in the NHTSA's sister site There you can find numerous articles that cover various safety topics on such things as airbags, child safety, safety technology, and proper tire pressure. Don't forget to take a look at's resources site. Resource links at offer information for consumers considering purchasing a new vehicle who have safety in mind. Lastly, also provides a query database where you can search vehicles by make, model, year, and manufacturer and compare safety ratings as well as safety features.

While it is impossible to determine how well vehicles will protect drivers and passengers in all types of crashes, NHTSA assures consumers that its 5-star rating system is useful for comparing vehicle safety. For example, NHTSA reports that when it comes to vehicle weight, heavier vehicles will better protect you in a crash than lighter vehicles. Also as a general practice, NHTSA recommends that new buyers sit in their potential vehicle and see that their seat belts are properly fitted. Proper fit means that the lap belt will rest on the upper thighs and the shoulder belt across the chest. NHTSA recommends that consumers look at vehicles that offer both electronic stability control (ESC) and side airbag (SAB) head and thorax protection technology. In the 2010 Buying a Safer Car brochure provided by, NHTSA also recommends that you ask these questions before making a vehicle selection:

  • What features does this vehicle have that will help you avoid a crash?
  • How well does this vehicle protect you during a crash? Does this vehicle have side airbag (SAB) head and thorax protection technology?
  • What is the likelihood of this vehicle rolling over in a single-vehicle crash?
  • What other types of advanced safety features does this vehicle have?

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

A second reliable site for information regarding vehicle safety is the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or IIHS. IIHS is a non-profit, scientific, and educational organization that is wholly supported by auto insurers. IIHS aims to reduce deaths, injuries, and property damage that result form crashes on the nation's roads by collecting and publishing insurance data regarding the human and economic losses resulting from automobile crashes. The IIHS is bolstered by its affiliate, The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI). HLDI collects and publishes insurance loss coverages in six areas: collision, property damage liability, personal injury protection, medical payment, bodily injury liability, and comprehensive (including theft). Statistics compiled by the HLDI on the differences in collision losses for different makes and models of vehicles are available to you from your vehicle dealer upon request.

At the IIHS site you can immediately find a Top Safety Pick for 2011 listing. IIHS's testing is rigorous and independent of the NHTSA 5-star rating system. In addition to impact studies upon crash dummies from frontal, side, and rollover crashes, IIHS also records the amount of intrusion into the passenger compartment and evaluates the seat/head restraints for protection against neck injuries in rear impact crashes. Information and video demonstrations regarding how testing is conducted and under what conditions, can be found on the IIHS website. But the highlight of the IIHS's website are its query databases of vehicles which have (SAB) and (ESC) systems. At the very least, check out IIHS's Status Report newsletter for a quick informative read.

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