WHICH ARE THE SAFEST VEHICLES ON THE ROAD?

It’s always good to start off an article with a headline so here’s one to make you sit up and take notice. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has the job of monitoring what we drive and how well we drive. In 2010, the number of people who died in traffic accidents was lower than in 1949 for the first time. Yes, it really was more dangerous to drive in the 1940s than today. Why is that? Because yesterday’s cars were death traps. Those of you who are older will probably remember the Ford Pinto. This was a car designed to burst into flames whenever anyone rear-ended it. Ford executives were more interested in maximizing profit than safety so refused their engineers’ pleas to improve the safety of the design before going ahead with full-scale production. Today, government regulations are tougher and consumers less forgiving — courts have been awarding higher damages against manufacturers that fail to take care of those driving their cars. The result is almost all the vehicles now on are roads are reasonably safe to drive.

There are exceptions, of course, and it’s the job of the NHTSA to find them and warn the public. As an example, think back to 2004 when power windows were becoming standard in family saloons. A remarkable number of children were strangled when they leaned out of the window and then accidentally touched the rocker switch. The manufacturers had been aware of the problem. It did not cost much to fix the problem. Two years and several high-profile lawsuits later, American manufacturers caught up with their European competitors. Now product recalls are a normal part of life with safety a necessary part of all marketing campaigns.

In the forefront, the NHTSA offers a 5-star rating system based on crash tests, performance in rollover tests, and the number of safety features fitted as standard on production models. In 2011, new and tougher tests were introduced to offer a more rounded view of each make and model’s safety score. The site offers a comprehensive database of vehicles from 1990 through 2010, and from 2011 onward. The search facility is free and offers a guide on the safest vehicles to buy. Perhaps not surprisingly, the insurance industry follows the NHTSA’s rating system and tends to reward drivers who buy the safest vehicles by offering them the cheap car insurance. This is not guaranteed, of course. Despite securing a 5-star rating, some vehicles are still expensive to insure because of their high retail price and the cost of repairs. If you propose to buy such a vehicle, shop around and talk to insurers to find the best car insurance deals. There’s usually some room for negotiation, particularly when you have several vehicles you could insure with the same company. Bundling multiple vehicles or auto and home cover are standard ways of securing affordable car insurance in these difficult economic times.