Car Buying

What Safety Features Should You Look For in a Family Car?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro June 2015

If you're thinking about buying a new family car, you'll quickly realize that the number of available safety features seems to grow every year. Years ago, dual airbags and anti-lock brakes were considered cutting-edge -- but now we have automatic braking systems, blind spot monitoring systems, lane departure warnings and more. So which ones are important? And which ones can you skip? We've got some answers for shoppers confounded by the enormous amount of safety features you can find in today's cars.

Get the Basics

Our first piece of advice is to be sure your next family car has all the basics. And we don't just mean last year's basics, such as side-curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes and traction control, which are included on just about every car sold today. No, we mean tomorrow's basics, too -- and that means you'll want a backup camera, which is slated to be federally mandated in a few more years. You may also want parking sensors if you often find yourself parking in tight spots. Not only do they increase your levels of safety, they'll help your resale value when the time comes to move on to a newer model.

Do You Get Distracted?

As for the rest of today's safety gadgets, one key question you'll have to ask yourself is: How often do you find yourself getting distracted behind the wheel?

We say that because many of today's latest safety features are geared towards keeping you alert even if you get distracted. Drivers who often find their attention being diverted away from the wheel may want to opt for a few modern safety gadgets.

As an example, consider forward-collision alert -- a system that lets you know if there's an impending collision ahead. Drivers who often lean back or turn around to talk to their kids may want this feature. Some forward-collision alert systems even come with automatic braking, which can stop the car for you at certain speeds, should you not press the brake yourself.

Another aid for distracted drivers is called lane departure warning. Like its name suggests, it warns you if you're drifting out of your lane by using cameras to monitor lane lines on the road. Once again, this can be an important feature for drivers who often find themselves turning around to talk to children in the back seat. Better yet, some advanced versions of this system will even guide you back into your lane, which could save you from an accident.

Visibility Aids

If you often find yourself having trouble seeing out of a modern car, you may want to consider the other two modern safety features that are starting to become more common in today's cars. Those gadgets are rear cross-traffic alert and blind spot monitoring.

Rear cross-traffic alert is our favorite. It lets you know if there's any cross-traffic coming when you're backing out of a parking space. This is a highly important feature that we wish all new cars had -- especially bigger vehicles such as SUVs and minivans. Blind spot monitoring, meanwhile, monitors your blind spot to let you know if there's a car in it. If you put on your turn signal while a car is in your blind spot, the system will sound a chime or flash a light to let you know you shouldn't change lanes.

So which of these features are necessary? As always, it depends on a lot of factors, including your budget, your level of anxiety on the road and your desire to equip your vehicle with all of the latest safety gadgets. If we were buying a new family car, we'd at least start with a backup camera. We would also probably seriously consider adding a few other new gadgets, depending on their cost and availability.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
What Safety Features Should You Look For in a Family Car? - Autotrader