IN the bad old days, car safety extended to a lap belt and breakaway steering wheel. Despite the lack of safety features, fatalities were few and far between. But this doesn’t mean the cars were safer. In fact, it just meant that there were fewer cars and, as a result, fewer accidents. Speeds were lower too, generally.
Safety features that are now standard in everyday cars were once considered luxuries and only came in high-end cars. Cruise control, anti-lock brakes, air bags and even rear seat belts were considered novel. Nowadays, many new cars include those, along with tire pressure monitoring and traction and stability controls as fairly standard features.
Car researchers are also developing even more devices to keep drivers safe and help prevent car crashes.
The stuff of fantasy and sci-fi movies, autonomous vehicles, are being rapidly developed and being prototyped and tested now. A lot of groundbreaking advances in car safety have come from developing these autonomous vehicles. One example is Park Assist, and some high-end vehicles now come with this as standard. And, a few years down the line, your family car will also feature it.
Cameras also feature heavily in autonomous cars. Even now, your car may have a rear view camera activated by the reverse gear. A 360degree camera paired with a radar system allows for greater safety since the vehicle will be able to “see” and “sense” other objects and react accordingly, most likely compensating for speed or even the overall weight of additional passengers.
Automatic braking, already seen on some vehicles, will be activated if the vehicle senses danger approaching.
Adaptive features are also a common feature on high-end cars. Headlights come on automatically in dim light. Windshield wipers automatically operate if it senses moisture on the windshield. Coming soon is adaptive cruise control, which senses other vehicles and slows the car down automatically and speeds it up once the object or vehicle is no longer in the way.
Drowsiness alert is standard on many heavy vehicles nowadays. Many new cars also have it standard, or it comes as an optional accessory.
Imagine a car with all these features as standard and an autonomous car is just around the corner. Don’t care for entering your vehicle the normal way by opening the doors? Some vehicles have powered doors and seats that allow you to be seated outside the vehicle and winched in.
Which brings us to the next point; old(er) cars. We love them, we restore them, we cherish them, but are they safe enough? Some of us choose older cars as a second car, for first time drivers and also because we couldn’t afford them when we were younger.
But since the safety of our loved ones should be paramount, we should always consider a safer, newer car. Even a mid-1990s sedan is sadly lacking in safety features. Still, there are still ways you could upgrade an older car.
Most older cars will have a weaker chassis. Whether through design or old age, this can be addressed with careful repair and strengthening. Stiffening struts in the front and rear, better suspension and brakes and internal stiffening bars will allow an older car to feel safer and handle better.
Better anti-roll bars and nylon suspension bushes also do a good job of restoring feel and stability. Some cars from the 1970s need rear sway bars to control a wayward rear solid axle. There are alternatives out there if you want to keep an older car on the road and safe.
It is also possible to install better, newer seat belts as well as internal bracing in the doors. ABS kits are possible to be installed in an older car, especially if a more luxurious version of your car was equipped with it. Otherwise, learn cadence braking to simulate ABS braking.
Similarly, a complete airbag system can be retrofitted (similar caveats apply as above). Do not install both these items if your car has never had a model with it installed. Basically, these systems are integrated with the car itself and can’t simply be installed in a different vehicle, even if they were from the same make.
What about basics like better rear-view mirrors and better, brighter headlights? Those are almost afterthoughts in early 1970s cars. Replace them with new or better items. LED bulbs are also available to fit old filament bulb sockets for brighter sidelights and turnsignals.
Many other upgrades are available to improve safety. Wider rims and better tyres also improve any older car. Please prioritise these items before installing that ICE system or that rorty exhaust.
We love old cars because they’re easy to work on, cheap and often offer a better drive than newer cars. Handing down a well-maintained family vehicle to a member of your family is often an occasion for joy. But it is important that we keep that older car in better shape than when it left the factory. For safety’s sake.