Euro NCAP Testing

Car safety features explained

What safety features should you look out for on your next car and how do they help to protect you? Here's our guide to everything you need to know about car safety.

We all want our cars to be as safe as possible and technical advances mean that modern cars come with an array of features that help to protect us and those around us on the road. Here, we’ll run through which car safety features are available, how they work and how you can find out how safe a car really is.

What makes a car safe?

Car safety has evolved rapidly over the past few years and modern cars are packed with features that can help you avoid having a collision at all. These are often referred to as ‘active’ safety features, since the car acts on your behalf to help prevent a crash. 

There are also ‘passive’ safety features that help to protect those inside and outside the car if a collision can’t be avoided. These include ‘crash zones’ that allow the car’s body to crumple in an impact in a way that absorbs energy and airbags that inflate to cushion those inside the car.

Size also plays a part in crash safety. If a heavy SUV crashes into a tiny hatchback, the laws of physics mean that the larger car will almost always come off better.

What is Euro NCAP?

You may have heard the term ‘Euro NCAP rating’ and wondered what it means. Euro NCAP stands for European New Car Assessment Programme. It’s an independent organisation set up to improve car safety and its rating gives you a simple, reliable way of comparing how safe different cars are. 

Euro NCAP buys new cars anonymously and puts them through a series of tests. These include crashes at various speeds in controlled conditions, to see how each car fares in typical types of collision. It also looks at which safety features a car has as standard and which you must pay extra for. All this data is used to give each car an overall star rating out of five.

Car makers are constantly improving the safety of their models. It means that many cars now tested get the maximum five stars. Look on the Euro NCAP website and you’ll see more detailed results, with a percentage score for how each car protects adults or children inside the car, pedestrians outside it and which safety features it has. You’ll also find ‘best-in-class’ lists that allow you to easily see which cars it rates the highest. Top scorers in 2019 included popular models such as the Audi A1, BMW 3 Series and Renault Clio.

Safety features your car will have as standard

The safety equipment fitted to cars depends on the vehicle’s age. The newer the car the more (and the more technologically advanced) safety features it will have.

Seat belts have been compulsory in all new cars since 1983 and although airbags aren’t compulsory most new cars come with at least six as standard. These cover the windscreen and sides at the front and the side windows in the front and rear. 

Many cars have additional airbags that cover the driver’s knees and some have rear side airbags available as standard or as an option.

What are anti-lock brakes?

Anti-lock brakes (also known as ABS) have been compulsory on cars sold in the European Union since 2004. They improve safety by preventing the car from skidding when you brake heavily, which dramatically reduces the stopping distance and helps you stay in control of the car.

This feature detects if one or more of the wheels is about to stop turning completely (lock up) as you brake and then releases and reapplies the brakes repeatedly to prevent a skid.

What is Electronic Stability Control?

Electronic Stability Control (ESC) or Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) has been a legal requirement for mainstream cars since 2014. As with anti-lock brakes, it improves safety by reducing the chance of the car skidding and you losing control and crashing it.

ESC does this by detecting if the car is starting to skid as you turn and then applying the brakes to individual wheels, or reducing the power sent to the wheels, to correct it and keep you going in the right direction.   

Many car brands have their own names for ESC – these include Dynamic Stability Control (BMW), Vehicle Dynamic Control (Nissan) and Vehicle Stability Control (Toyota).

What is driver assistance?

Most modern cars come with various electronic systems designed to help make a collision less likely to happen or reduce its impact. These ‘active safety’ systems are often referred to as ‘driver assistance’ or ‘driving assistant’ features that are bundled together and available as standard, or as an option pack. 

These electronic systems help drivers by keeping an eye on various car functions such as speed, steering and cornering. They also use technology such as cameras and radar that are built into the cars to monitor the road and driving conditions. 

Driver assistance technology uses a powerful computer that matches the car’s behaviour to its surroundings to make real-time decisions about how to keep the car and its occupants safe. If it detects a collision is likely and you as the driver aren’t reacting, the car will give you an audio or visual warning (or sometimes a vibration through the seat). If you don’t react and the car predicts a crash is still likely it can take action for you by controlling the steering, brakes and the amount of power sent to the wheels.

What is Autonomous Emergency Braking?

Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) or ‘automatic braking’ is a safety feature that enables your car to apply the brakes automatically if it detects you’re about to crash. It’s so effective that experts have hailed it as the most important safety advance since the seat belt; it’s expected to be a mandatory requirement for all new cars within the next two years.

More basic systems (sometimes called ‘city braking’ or similar) work when cars are travelling slowly, while others operate across a range of speeds. Some even work when you’re going backwards to stop you hitting pedestrians or cyclists when reversing out of a parking space. All systems use sensing technology to detect obstacles in the car’s path and assess the likelihood of a collision. If you don’t react to a likely collision, the car can apply full braking pressure more quickly and efficiently than you ever could. 

Most new cars have some kind of automatic braking fitted as standard. On others you pay extra for it, or to upgrade from a basic to a more advanced system. Confusingly, different car makers give safety systems like this different names. Ford calls its version Active City Stop, Volvo uses the term ‘City Safety’ while Volkswagen refers to it as ‘City Emergency Braking’.

What is Lane Keep Assist?

Many cars have been available with features designed to prevent you from straying from your lane on the motorway for a number of years. Lane departure warning systems are the most basic, with the ability to alert you if you unintentionally stray over a white line (without indicating) through an audio or visual warning or a gentle vibration through the seat or steering wheel.

Lane-keeping assistance systems (sometimes called Lane Keep Assist) go one step further; if you don’t respond to a warning they’re able to gently steer you back into the correct lane.

If you want a car with the latest safety features you’ll find plenty to choose from at Cazoo. Use the search function to find one you love, buy it online, and have it delivered to your door or choose to collect it from your nearest Cazoo Customer Centre.

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