New technology and materials have your back.
Recently, Kevin Hart and two friends suffered an awful car crash in California. They were in Kevin’s vintage Plymouth, which plunged down an embankment on a hilly road.
Luckily they all survived, but the photos of the damage are chilling. The car’s roof was crushed and it’s a miracle the three survived.
This crash demonstrates the misnomer that many parents, who want the safest cars for their kids, believe: That older, heavier cars that are built with lots of steel are safer for new drivers
My friend Jesse is just such a parent. Shopping for a used car for for his teen daughter, a newly minted driver, he wanted something older and safer.
“New cars are so flimsy,” he said. “I want an old Mercedes-Benz, a tank that will surround her with heavy metal.”
You can see what a crash is like first hand, from the safety of the test lab, here:
While I’d be the last to poo-poo the appeal of a vintage Mercedes, a classic car isn’t necessarily a safer car and in many instances, is far less safe than cars built in the last few years.
In fact, our cars are twice as safe today as they were 10 years ago and they continue to get safer every year. Here’s why, and what you need to know.
Light on the Outside, Solid on the Inside
Close a trunk or thump the panel on a new car’s door, and you may hear a thin, hollow sound. That’s because today’s cars are built with a mix of metals and composite materials. Their frames, panels and parts such as bumpers, mirrors and framework are often made of a strong molded composite plastic. They may have aluminum door panels, hood panels and trunk panels.
But without question, car and truck frames are built with ultra high strength steel.
The passenger compartment is a ‘cage’ surrounded by steel that is designed to maintain its integrity and protect its passengers in a crash.
Parts are Designed to Crush and Bend—So Passengers Don’t
Researchers have worked to understand where the energy goes in an impact, as we learned a few weeks ago when touring the Honda Research and Development Center in Ohio. By testing all sorts of crash circumstances, they can understand how to divert the energy of a crash and pass it along to a part that will absorb it. Brilliant, right?
Steel Has Evolved to Bend, Sway and Protect
We think of steel as the strongest, most reliable material in our cars. But it’s so much more than that. As our cars and designs have evolved, so has steel. Steel makers have developed more than 80 grades of steel used in cars, from ultra high strength steel that is also super thin, to flexible, bendable grades that can transfer the impact of a crash away from passengers and pedestrians.
Honda safety engineer Brian Bautsch showed us how the different grades of steel are designed to perform differently in a crash: Some will remain in tact. Others will crush like an accordion. Others will splinter and move the impact away from key areas like the passenger compartment and the engine compartment. All to keep passengers and bystanders safe.
New Technology Protects the Engine, Too
One of the most devastating, and expensive, parts of a car crash is damage done to the engine. An engine can cause additional harm to pedestrians, they can leak dangerous fluids or even catch fire. And of course, engines are expensive to repair or replace. So, steel engine compartments are generally designed to remain in tact and to protect the engine. During our visit to Honda’s R&D center we witnessed a crash test; the results of the test showed how the engine stayed in tact and the frame of the engine compartment shifted as it took the impact of the crash.
Active Safety Features and Driver Assistance Technologies Reduce Crashes
And, they can reduce your cost of owning a car.
Think about this: If you buy a safety package upgrade for $1500, is it worth the investment? Even if you carry a $500 insurance deductible, it could be. That $500, plus the increase in your insurance premiums after a crash, plus things that are not covered while your car is being repaired can add up to more than the cost of the safety features.
Features to look for include:
- Adaptive cruise control, which means that the car is equipped with cameras that are watching traffic around you;
- Emergency braking, which, with those cameras, will monitor traffic for potential crashes and if the driver doesn’t brake, the car will
- Lane departure assist (sometimes called lane tracing), which will assist you in keeping your car centered in its lane
- Automatic high beams, which adjusts the brightness of your high beam headlights when pedestrians or other vehicles are in your path
Additionally, all cars built after 2016 should have a rear view camera, and blind spot monitors – and option on most new cars– are a good idea.
Our roads are more crowded and we are more distracted drivers. But cars that see around us, assist us with driving and protect us in a crash are not just the future, but what we want for everyone we love.