If you're looking for a new car, you're probably thinking about car safety. So we've provided a list of all the safety features mandated by the federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). That will help shoppers know exactly which features they can expect in a car -- and which ones they need to ask about. Our information should also help used-car shoppers, as we've included the model year that many safety-related changes went into effect.
Airbags and Passive-Restraint Systems
Since 1995, NHTSA has mandated dual front airbags in all cars. That means any 1995 model vehicle or later will have airbags for both a driver and a passenger, with a few exceptions for low-volume vehicles.
Before airbags, NHTSA mandated that all vehicles have passive-restraint systems beginning in early 1989. Such systems -- which often came as a motorized seat belt -- protect a driver from hitting the steering wheel or a passenger from hitting the dashboard. Expect all 1990 or later models to offer that system, and many models offered before 1990.
NHTSA mandated that all vehicles with a trunk must have an inside-trunk handle as of early 2001. That means all 2002 or later models must have it -- though many vehicles had it in earlier years, too. An inside-trunk handle prevents people from getting locked in a car's trunk, whether through criminal actions or a simple mistake.
NHTSA has required since 2007 that all vehicles come standard with a tire-pressure monitor. That means the feature can be expected on all 2008 or later new models, as well as on many cars sold before that date.
With tire-pressure monitors, the government mandate does not require a car to inform drivers which tire is low on air. Instead, many monitors simply announce that one tire is low on air. As a result, it's a good idea to carry a tire gauge just in case the monitor indicates a tire is low.
Electronic Stability Control
Electronic stability control (ESC) improves the stability of a car by automatically braking wheels that are slipping. The government only recently mandated that ESC be standard in modern cars, making the decree for the 2012 model year. All cars made after then will include the feature, as will many models made before that date. Many cars sold before 2012 will have stability control as an optional feature. Sometimes stability control will have a brand name like StabiliTrak in GM vehicles or AdvanceTrac in Ford vehicles.
What Isn't Included?
Many shoppers will be surprised that anti-lock brakes and side airbags still aren't mandated by the federal government. As a result, be sure to ask about these car safety features when you're choosing your next new vehicle.