Text size


Latest Car Safety Technology

Latest Car Safety Technology


People sometimes question how useful all the new safety technology is; is it all a bit of a gimmick? Motoring journalist and ex-racing driver, John Swift, takes a look at some of the latest advances.

Is all the latest car safety technology really useful?

People sometimes question how useful all the new safety technology is; is it all a bit of a gimmick; is it just technology for technology’s sake or does it really make today’s cars safer?

Turn that question on its head and ask how much do you want to keep yourself, your family and friends safe?

The current Honda Jazz and 20 year old Rover 100 are tested in the same impact

Here's the difference that 20 years of improvement in crash protection technology has made. The current Honda Jazz at the top and  a Rover 100, from 20 years ago,below. Both tested with the same impact test.

If your answer to that question is, `more than anything’, then the safety features built into the latest cars are more than merely useful, they’re essential.

And if you’re a young driver, struggling to pay hefty insurance premiums, they can make the difference between affording a car or not.

Safety technology falls into two categories, active – which is collision avoidance - and passive, which is occupant protection.

Active Safety

Active safety is where all the big advances are being made and it’s becoming increasingly important to insurers, law makers and to us, the road users. Here are a few of the most important safety advances which I’d recommend you look out for in your next car.

Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB)

AEB, or City Braking, as it is sometimes called, has been hailed by experts and engineers as the single biggest safety advance since the seat belt. Using radar, and a camera, AEB scans the road ahead, and if the gap between your car and an obstacle ahead is closing too fast for safety, it will automatically apply the brakes.

City Brake active system

It only works at slower speeds and is certainly not a substitute for you being vigilant, but it’s brilliantly effective. Most studies reckon it cuts the chances of you rear-ending a vehicle ahead by around 40 per cent.

It’s a little shocking then that around 70% of new cars sold in the UK still don’t have AEB, and don’t be fooled, the cost of the car is no guide as to whether it’s fitted or not. The Honda Jazz and latest VW Golf have it as standard across all variants; but Land Rover is the only manufacturer, among the top ten selling brands, to have it on all its models.

Bright blue metallic Honda Jazz whizzing along a country lane

Volvo is another, but with lower sales volumes. The UK’s two biggest sellers, the Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa, have the lowest rate of standard fit AEB across their ranges.

Some brands offer it as an optional extra and it’s absolutely worth paying for, not just for your safety, but also financially, as any decent insurer wanting your business should offer you a discount on your premium. One insurer, LV=, said a back-to-back study of one VW fitted with it and one without found a 45 per cent drop in crashes with injuries in the AEB-equipped car. Another, MORE TH>N, offers a discount of up to 20 per cent for cars fitted with it.

It's also worth considering that AEB should help you rack up a crash-free record, improving your No Claims Bonus.

EuroNCAP wants AEB on all cars

One final point on AEB; EuroNCAP, the crash test programme which assesses the safety of new cars, has said in future it will refuse to award the maximum five star rating to any vehicle without it. The lower the NCAP rating, the higher the insurance…

Blind Spot Detection Warning (BSDW & BSM)

Another brilliant bit of safety technology, designed to guard against a very common form of accident on a dual carriageway or motorway, where one vehicle strays into the path of another coming up from behind. This happens for a variety of reasons, usually lack of attention; drivers move out of their lane into another without signalling or without having a safe gap to do so.

In turn this causes the driver approaching from behind to stamp on their brakes, triggering a dangerous ripple effect further back, or, if the vehicle is already alongside, a collision.

Blind spot detection system on a VW Golf SV

If it senses a potentially dangerous move from your car, Blind Spot Detection can flash a warning light in your door mirror or even gently vibrate the steering wheel. It’s very handy if you do a lot of motorway or A road driving.

An advance on this is Lane Departure Warning which scans the road ahead and alerts you if you drift out of your lane. Very handy if there is a vehicle coming towards you….

Lane departure warning system

Active Cruise Control (ACC)

Another brilliant piece of active safety, ACC lets you select the speed you want, as in more basic cruise control systems, but will then respond by braking or accelerating to keep safe gaps or comply with the speed limit.

Definitely worth looking for in your next car. Good for your insurance and blood pressure.

Active cruise control display on

Lane departure warning (LDW)

This is a simple piece of safety equipment that warns you if you’re about to leave your lane without indicating. If you cross the white line, the system will assume you’ve fallen asleep and alert you, often by beeping or vibrating your seat. It isn’t a foolproof system, and it often seems to go off for no good reason, but it’s well worth using if you feel yourself getting a bit tired and need to drive a few miles before you can stop for a rest. It’s also handy if you have children distracting you in the car.

Lane Departure Warning

Lane Keeping Assist shares much with lane departure warning, but rather than simply alerting you that you’re wandering out of lane, it will actively steer you back into the lane.

Tyre pressure monitoring system (TPMS)

Tyre pressure monitoring is now a legal requirement for new cars, and it quite simply monitors the air pressure in each tyre. If it senses a dramatic drop in pressure, it will alert the driver. These systems vary in their complexity, with some simply conveying their message via a warning light, while others will give details such as which tyre has triggered the alarm and how much air is in each tyre.

Tyre pressure monitoring message

Passive Safety

Passive safety technology is more familiar to us; airbags, pre-tensioning seat belts, crumple zones, they all play a part in keeping us safe if we’re involved in an accident, but unlike the active safety systems they do nothing to stop that accident occurring.

This is a relatively mature area of car safety engineering and the gains to be made now are much smaller than in active safety systems, although progress continues to be made.

So, at the very least Autonomous Emergency Braking, Lane Departure Warning and Active Cruise Control should be on your shopping list of things you want in your next car. They don’t replace an aware and observant driver, but they do help keep you and your passengers safe.

And if someone asks you if the latest technology based safety systems are really worth it or just a gimmick, ask them what the initial reaction was to the compulsory fitting and wearing of seat-belts, which led to hard hitting ads like this...

Safety breakthroughs in the UK

1983  Driver and front passenger must wear seatbelts

1987  Cars must have rear seatbelts

1989  Children in the back seats had to wear them, adults from 1991

2004  ABS becomes mandatory on all new cars

2014  Electronic Stability Control (ESC) becomes mandatory in the EU

2017  EU calls for AEB to be fitted on all new cars. EuroNCAP says it will deny five star rating to any car without it