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Car Safety: These Safety Features Aren't Required

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author photo by Doug DeMuro August 2013

If you're interested in a new vehicle, chances are good that car safety is on your mind. And you've probably noticed that each of the new cars you're considering have a few safety features in common, such as dual front airbags, a tire pressure monitor and stability control. That's because those items are required by the federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

But you might be surprised to learn which safety features the government doesn't require. We've listed some common safety features the government does not mandate, and we strongly suggest that buyers with an eye on car safety make sure their next vehicle includes these items before they sign the paperwork.

Side Airbags

Although the NHTSA requires that all cars have front airbags, side airbags aren't mandatory. While many cars include them as standard features anyway, some don't. We highly recommend side airbags, as they can protect your head or your chest in the event of a dangerous side impact.

If you're looking for a new or used car, you can check for side airbags by looking around the seats and the interior pillars. One of the two should have tags that read "SRS AIRBAG." If you can't find a tag, the car you're considering is likely not equipped with side airbags.

Anti-Lock Brakes

Anti-lock brakes can help drivers stop in an emergency. While non-ABS brakes can lock up in heavy braking, anti-lock brakes automatically pulse to avoid locking. That feature helps drivers when they need it the most.

But the NHTSA doesn't mandate anti-lock brakes, which means you'll need to verify whether or not the car you're considering has them. If you can't figure it out from the window sticker -- or if you're looking at a used car -- the best way to test is a panic stop. It won't ruin the car, and it will help reveal this important safety feature.

Traction Control

While the NHTSA requires all cars to have stability control, the same isn't true with traction control. The difference is that while stability control applies the brakes when a car is skidding, traction control helps drivers to accelerate on icy roads. In other words, stability control is more important to prevent accidents, while traction control simply assists with driving during poor road conditions.

Traction control can be an important feature for drivers who live in snowy, northern climates, but it's not mandated by the government. There are many ways to find out if a car you're considering has traction control, including accelerating sharply on a slick spot of pavement to see if the light flashes. You also can just search for a traction-control-off button, as nearly all cars with traction control give drivers the chance to turn it off if they'd rather not use it.

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.
Car Safety: These Safety Features Aren't Required - Autotrader