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Car safety features: everything you need to know

Cars have never been safer. Some car safety features have been around for decades, like the seat belt. Others, like autonomous emergency braking, are more recent developments. Either way, these car safety features exist to help you avoid a crash, or to make the consequences of a collision less serious.

Airbags

Most modern cars will have several airbags. If you have a collision, and the impact is severe enough, the airbags will inflate to reduce the risk of injury. It’s important to remember that airbags don’t take the place of the seat belt. They’re a “supplementary restraint system”, and it’s the seat belt they supplement.

Anti-lock brakes

Also known as ABS, anti-lock braking is a car safety feature you’ll find in all modern vehicles. Without anti-lock brakes, if you hit the brakes hard enough the wheels will stop turning while the car is still moving. If the wheels lock-up and stop turning the driver can no longer steer away from danger while slowing down. With anti-lock brakes, the wheels don’t stop turning until the car stops. So in an emergency the driver can slow down and steer away from danger at the same time.

Autonomous emergency braking

This is one of the most important safety advances of recent years, so if the budget for your first car stretches to one fitted with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), we recommend you go for it. Autonomous emergency braking will apply the brakes for the driver if they don’t notice a hazard. Usually the system will warn the driver before applying the brakes, so the driver has time to respond first. The best AEB systems can detect pedestrians and cyclists as well as cars.

Blind spot warning

A blind spot warning system will alert the driver if there’s another vehicle in the blind spot. A warning light will appear if there’s a car in the blind spot, usually in the exterior mirror. The light will flash if you move towards the vehicle or indicate that you are changing lanes. There’s generally an audible warning too. A blind spot warning is a useful safety feature, but remember to check over your shoulder before changing lanes. You shouldn’t rely on the system completely.

Electronic brake-force distribution

Electronic brake-force distribution reduces stopping distances by applying the optimum braking power at each wheel. Think of it as an extra level of sophistication over straightforward anti-lock braking.

Electronic stability control

Sometimes shortened to ESC, electronic stability control helps keep a car on the road if the driver corners too fast for the conditions. ESC can reduce engine power and brake individual wheels if there’s a risk of skidding or a loss of control. All new cars have an ESC system fitted, and most used ones will have this car safety feature too.

Lane keep assist

Using sensors that pick up lane markings in the road, lane keep assist systems help the driver to stay within the centre of their lane. Lane keep assist will warn the driver if they are starting to drift out of lane without indicating, and gently steer back towards the centre of the lane if the driver doesn’t react.

Tyre-pressure monitoring

It’s important to keep tyres inflated to the correct pressure. Severely over or underinflated tyres will affect the car’s grip on the road, and could increase the risk of an accident. Underinflated tyres can overheat, which could lead to a blow-out – a sudden loss of pressure that might cause a crash. Tyre-pressure monitoring systems will warn the driver if the tyres are over or underinflated.

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