Every year, we see changes and improvements in auto safety. New technology promises to reduce the risk of car crashes by helping us stay in our lanes, spot upcoming trouble, and taking evasive action or stopping the car entirely. Fully-automated driving technology is on the horizon, which might reduce the number and severity of crashes by a great deal.
Most safety technology is probably worth the cost, but what are the devices that really save lives? The Insurance Information Institute (III) analyzed what works and found that some of the most common, standard features may be the most effective.
Seatbelts: Perhaps the most effective of all safety devices, seatbelts help restrain vehicle occupants and prevent them from being ejected from the vehicle. In 2017, when passenger vehicle occupants were totally ejected from the vehicle, they were killed 83% of the time.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), seatbelts reduce the chance of fatal injury by 45% among drivers and front-seat car passengers. They reduced the moderate-to-critical injury risk by 50%. The prevention was even more impressive for occupants of light trucks. Their fatal injury rate is reduced by 60%, and their risk of moderate to critical injury dropped by 65%.
How many lives have been saved? In 2017 alone, seatbelts saved approximately 14,955 lives, according to NHTSA.
Frontal airbags: These inflate when the vehicle is in a moderate to severe frontal crash. They have been federally mandated for drivers and front-seat passengers since the 1999 model year.
How many lives have been saved? According to NHTSA, in 2017, frontal airbags saved the lives of 2,790 people aged 13 and older.
When used in combination with seatbelts, frontal airbags reduce the chance of a fatality by 11% — 14% when no seatbelt is used. The III notes that the safest combination is to always wear seatbelts in a car with frontal airbags.
Child safety seats: Child safety restraints keep kids in place during a crash and moderate the effects of collisions. They also keep children from being ejected from the vehicle.
How many lives have been saved? NHTSA estimates that 2017 saw 325 fewer deaths among children under five, due to the protection of child safety seats.
Electronic stability control: Since the 2012 model year, NHTSA has required all vehicles to have electronic stability control (ESC), including cars, light trucks, vans and SUVs. ESC helps prevent rollovers and other types of crashes by controlling the engine power and brakes.
How many lives have been saved? In 2015, NHTSA says, about 1,949 occupants of vehicles were saved by ESC. Between 2011 and 2015, the agency adds, ESC has saved over 7,000 lives.
Motorcycle helmets: Don’t forget the importance of motorcycle helmets among riders and their passengers. They prevent serious and fatal head injuries. NHTSA estimates motorcycle helmets to be 37% effective at preventing fatalities among motorcycle riders and 41% among passengers. To put that another way, for every 100 motorcycle riders killed in crashes while not wearing a helmet, at least 37 of them would have been saved had they worn a helmet.
How many lives have been saved? In 2017, NHTSA estimates, 1,872 motorcyclists were saved by wearing a helmet. The agency notes that another 749 deaths could have been prevented if all motorcyclists wore helmets. (California requires helmets for all motorcycle riders and passengers.)
As new technology comes online, there may be new safety benefits to be had. However, it is these basic safety features and devices that save the most lives. Be sure to use them every time you drive.