Just last week, we wrote about how numerous automobiles are being rolled out with safety features that would have seemed like science fiction a couple decades ago. More than just protecting occupants during a crash, many systems are now able to warn the driver when such a collision is imminent or even take over if the operator fails to act. Tests are being conducted on vehicles that can drive themselves without any intervention whatsoever.
The availability of these safety features, though, brings into stark contrast how vehicles from years ago often did not provide adequate protection to vehicle occupants. In order to determine just how disparate the difference is in terms of safety of vehicles of yore and those of today, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has conducted a study that compared the two. Their results are explored in depth at this link.
To reach their conclusions, researchers with the NHTSA examined fatal collisions between 2005 and 2011 that involved vehicles that were of the 1985 through 2012 model years. As the NHTSA notes, there have been multiple vehicle advancements during that timespan. There are more and better airbags, pretensioners in seatbelts, better rollover protection, antilock brakes, and more. Because children were not included in the study, advancements in child safety seats do not get taken into account.
Some results may appear to be obvious even to those not well-versed in this subject. Among older and newer vehicles, about a third of persons involved in a crash overall were killed if they were wearing their seatbelts, but that number jumped dramatically to 77% when not wearing a seatbelt. The advancements in safety features ended up not creating a large disparity in terms of fatalities if seatbelts were not used, meaning that the most advanced automobile in the world still can’t help if you’re not willing to help yourself by wearing a seatbelt.
For those drivers who did wear their seatbelts and drove a car less than a year old, 26% involved in crashes were killed. That percentage goes up the older a vehicle becomes, with crashes involving automobiles older than 21 years leading to a fatality 47% of the time.
This shows that the newer a vehicle, the better the chances of being in a survivable accident rather than a fatal one. However, the NHTSA notes that the research is not perfect. Drivers could improve their patterns and habits over time, and as they then graduate to newer vehicles from the hand-me-downs they previously received when they were younger, their skills and attentiveness to safety could help them. Some of these aspects were accounted for in the research while others were not. The study also didn’t take into account mileage and maintenance habits.