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Auto and Road User Journal
Copyright © 1997 by TranSafety, Inc.
April 17, 1997
TranSafety, Inc.
(U.S. and Canada)
(360) 683-6276
Fax: (360) 335-6402

Highway Safety Publications Catalog. Articles on Road Engineering, Road Maintenance & Management, and Injury Litigation. Information and consulting for the Automobile and Road User, as well as for law professionals in accident investigations.
TranSafety's free consumer journal for automobile and road users, three subscription journals on road maintenance, engineering, and injury litigation, and highway safety publications catalog. See our free consumer journal for automobile and road users, three subscription journals on road maintenance, engineering, and injury litigation, and a highway safety publications catalog.

Consumer Reports April Issue Helps Buyers Find a Safer Vehicle

In its "Annual Auto Issue" (April 1997), Consumer Reports profiles 1997's crop of new cars, offering data in a number of categories, including safety, reliability, and performance. The current year promises to be a good one for consumers in the market for a new automobile. In particular, safety features such as traction control, side air bags, dual front air bags, and antilock brakes make this year's models noteworthy.

Preventing "wheels from locking up and skidding" is a prime advantage of an antilock brake system (ABS). However, for reasons unknown, recent studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) show that "the death rate from accidents involving ABS-equipped cars was slightly higher overall than for similar non-ABS cars from 1993 to 1995." New owners of an ABS-equipped car are encouraged to test it to become accustomed to the different feel of an ABS. Despite the IIHS study results, an ABS is regarded as "essential and worthwhile."

Traction control reduces wheel spinning on slippery roads. All-speed traction control, as the name implies, reduces spin regardless of speed; but car buyers can expect to pay more for this feature. Full-time all-wheel drive enhances four-wheel-drive capabilities; but again, expect a higher initial price tag and increased fuel consumption.

Our Canadian neighbors and the Scandinavian countries require daytime running lights on their vehicles; this safety feature is new in the U.S. These lights (regular headlights at reduced power) enhance a car's overall visibility. In one of their articles addressing the safety of 1997 cars, Consumer Reports includes a table listing new makes and models alphabetically and identifying safety features of each. One column of that table tells if a car offers daytime lights. Among the makes equipped with daytime lights as a standard feature are: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Geo, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Saab, Saturn, Suzuki, Volkswagen, and Volvo. The Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable have daytime lights as an optional feature.

In addition to shopping for these safety features, new-car buyers are encouraged to investigate data available on crash tests conducted by the federal government and the IIHS. While crash tests have limitations, they can provide useful information on a vehicle's overall safety record. For example, a full head-on crash rarely occurs in real driving circumstances; however, it is "an excellent test of a vehicle's safety belts and air bags." A test simulating the far-more-common offset head-on crash (vehicles crash head-on with the driver's side of one hitting the driver's side of the other) is "a useful measure of how well the vehicle's structure absorbs the impact of a crash to reduce the effect on occupants."

Potential new-car buyers are also advised to look for a car that "steers quickly and predictably, and stops short and straight." Even for the motorist who follows time-tested safe driving techniques (such as keeping an adequate distance away from other vehicles and avoiding driving while drowsy), these features provide an additional measure of safety. One new consideration involves the apparent incompatibility of phones and cars--talking on the phone while driving quadruples the chance of having a crash.

For detailed information, car shoppers are encouraged to consult the extensive safety features and equipment table mentioned above and found on pages 59 to 61 of the April 1997 Consumer Reports. Listed are the safety strengths and weaknesses of 186 makes and models of new cars.

Copyright © 1997 by TranSafety, Inc.

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