You hear car companies tout their safety devices and systems, but what exactly are they and how will the latest safety features help protect you and your passengers? Find out which ones you may want in your next vehicle, whether you're purchasing new or used.
Engineers have designed cars to have crumple zones (or crash zones), which are areas that compress (or crumple) in a collision. The area absorbs energy from the impact, minimizing intrusion into the passenger cabin, which remains as a sort of "safe cell" during a crash. Although the zones are typically in the front and rear of the car (because that's where the majority of collisions occur), manufacturers like Volvo have added side crumple zones as well.
Safety Roll Bar
An automatic roll bar can be a life-saving feature in a convertible (found in 2012 models of the Volvo C70, Mercedes SL and SLK and BMW 1 and 6 Series). The roll bars in these vehicles are hidden inside the body of the car and sensors activate them if an accident or rollover is detected. (Or in one case, a roll bar in a Mercedes-Benz SL activated when a dumpster was dropped on the car, saving the driver's life.) Mercedes and Volvo have traditional looking bars, while BMW has a pop-up frame that extends behind the seats to create an "occupant cell" if a rollover occurs.
Airbag Cutoff Switch
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that children should never be seated in front of an airbag. For that very reason, manufacturers have added an airbag cutoff switch in some new models. This allows you to turn off the passenger-side airbag (or different areas, depending on the car). It's important to remember to turn the switch back on or off, depending on who you have with you in the car.
Blind Spot Assist
Countless collisions have been prevented in the U.S. since 2004, when Nissan introduced a lane departure warning system in the Infiniti FX (and numerous brands followed suit). The latest incarnation of sensing inherent danger is detecting cars in the blind spot. When the sensor detects another car in the driver's blind spot (via camera or radar), it emits an audio or visual warning. It can be found in brands such as Chrylser, Volvo, Ford and Lincoln, and also the Infiniti M series, the first models to brake and counter-steer back into a marked lane.
Airbag with Dual Threshold Deployment
If you have airbags with dual threshold deployment, it means that they will deploy depending on whether someone is wearing a seatbelt or not. If not, the bag will deploy at a slightly lower threshold because an unbelted person needs the protection of an airbag at lower speeds than someone who is belted in.
LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children)
Parents with carseat-age children will want to ensure there's a LATCH system in their prospective vehicles. All cars manufactured after September 2002 have LATCH, which has two permanent anchors at the base of the rear seats as well as a top anchor behind each seat. The anchors are designed so you can properly install a car seat without having to use seat belts to secure it.
You may have felt seatbelt pretensioners before, but not known what they were called. Mercedes-Benz first introduced them in the 1981 S-Class; they're designed to instantly pull a seatbelt taut as a crash occurs or preemptively tighten it with abrupt changes in speed. When a sensor goes off, it triggers the tension on the belt and keeps the driver or passenger from jerking forward, minimizing injury.
Trunk Anti-Trap Device
Simply put, a trunk anti-trap device allows you to open the trunk from inside, should you get stuck in there. While we know that safety is no joke, trying to picture when you would use the anti-trap device either produces a highly comedic situation or a scene that would be played out in a mafia movie. On most models, it glows in the dark and looks like a lever that you pull. It's worth figuring out where it is in your car, should you get kidnapped or stuffed into your trunk for any other reason.