Page 1: Safety First
If you think automakers build unsafe cars, think again: most new vehicles now offer a wide array of safety equipment, both as standard and optional. And while there are still new vehicles that, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) pose significant risk to their occupants, most new models are safer than ever. In fact, it's no longer acceptable for vehicles to have front airbags and antilock brakes: the trend in the industry is to offer advanced front airbags with dual stage deployment sensors, side airbags as standard, all-wheel drive and advanced traction control. Even lower-priced models now offer side airbags, at a minimum as optional equipment. The structural integrity of new cars has also improved; consider the 2004 Ford F-150. Though it does not have side airbags, the F-150 scored at the top grade in testing done by the IIHS, and was rated five stars on some of the tests performed by NHTSA.
So how does all this new safety technology translate on the dealer lots? As with all aspects of shopping for a new car, it's important to balance price, features and do research from independent sources. Most of all, it's critical to test drive a vehicle and get a feel for how it responds on the road. After all, a driver who feels unsafe at the wheel is, generally, an unsafe driver. It's also important to note that no matter how safe a vehicle is, the best way to avoid accidents is to drive safely and obey traffic laws. Below is a list of five top safety picks, determined by price, features and test results from the IIHS and NHTSA. While many other vehicles within each category showed a strong safety benefits, these five offer the highest safety ratings with significant equipment at a competitive price.