Safe bets for low rollers.
- BRENDA PRIDDY CO. THE MANUFACTURERS
We live in a nation of unparalleled personal-injury litigation, of warning labels on curling irons that must specify “for external use only,” and of waivers that must be signed before engaging in death-defying activities like roller skating. We are slightly more lax, however, when it comes to transportation. Traffic accidents trail only cancer and heart disease as the leading killer of Americans, and according to a recent New York Times article, we rank 11th in the world for fatalities per mile, more dangerous than countries like Poland and Estonia. This is even with quantum leaps in safety technology made and mandated in the past decade; it’s fairly tough to buy a patently unsafe vehicle nowadays. Some, however, are safer than others.
Like prime real estate and good medical care, the safest cars go first to those who can pay for them. The latest and greatest safety technologies often debut on more expensive marquis models (think BMW 7-series. Volvo S80. Lexus LS460 ) and migrate downstream and across the market within a few years, as parts-bin sharing lowers costs and these technologies increasingly become worth their weight in marketing gold. Where Reaganomics failed as an example of trickle-down theory, the automotive industry shines. Save the fat-wallets first, and then get those on more moderate incomes later.
Vehicular safety is focused in two areas: accident prevention and crashworthiness. Factors such as handling, braking performance, and stability control play into the first; airbags, chassis deformation, and crumple zones the second.
Stability control uses data such as steering-wheel position and yaw and roll rates to detect a skid and then uses anti-lock braking and traction-control systems for prevention and recovery. Stability-control systems across manufacturers work with greater and lesser levels of complexity, sophistication, and efficacy, but they do work. Thanks to a mandate from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), every vehicle sold in this country by model year 2012 will be equipped with such a system.
The U.S. government dictates a minimum of two airbags protecting the front-seat passengers in a frontal impact; many vehicles also come with airbags to protect occupants in side collisions. To make our list, vehicles must have stability control as well as curtain airbags for head protection, bringing the minimum to six. Most of these vehicles feature six airbags as standard; for those that don’t, we’ve built the option into the price, as we’ve done with stability control. Several cars meet the $25,000 price ceiling in four- or six-cylinder trim, which we’ve noted.
NHTSA and its European counterpart, the New Car Assessment Programme (incidentally, also the name of the NHTSA branch responsible for crashing cars), rate the crashworthiness of cars on a five-star scale, five stars being the best score. NHTSA scores cars for driver and passenger protection in frontal impacts and front and rear occupant protection in side impacts; the European NCAP grants cars a single overall protection rating.
Now that you know, choose well, hang a St. Christopher from the rearview mirror, and remember that the single greatest variable in vehicle safety is the loose nut behind the steering wheel. Click on the links above to read about a specific model, or “Next Page” below to browse the list.