In Part II of this series, I wrote about the benefits of Driver Assistive Technology.
In this installment, I will share some of the resources I am looking at while trying to select a car for Sophia to drive regularly. I am a believer in the old saying, "When you are a hammer, everything is a nail." In my case, I spend my days working with victims of serious crashes. I see lots and lots crashed cars and the personal toll that collisions cause. I also get a first hand look at lots of different vehicles, and how they survive collisions. To nobody's surprise, some cars are more crashworthy than others, and some are downright dangerous. So, my nail is safety. By no means am I alone in having auto safety as a priority, but given my job, it's hard for me to see past the issue.
I am relying on two main sources of safety information. First, the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a great website, www.safercar.gov. At safercar.gov, you can do all sorts of general research on crash tests, read about various safety technology, and search for cars that have specific features. In fact, you can watch crash tests of the very car you are interested in. You can also do a vehicle specific search to confirm the vehicle you are looking at is not the subject of any open recalls. Over the past three years we have seen the largest auto recalls in history -- from defective airbags to ignition systems and more, tens of millions of late model cars have been recalled. You want to make sure that any car you are looking at has no open recalls. All you need is the 17 character VIN to run the search.
The second excellent resource is the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). You probably recognize the IIHS from its famous crash test dummies and news stories on the safest and most dangerous vehicles of the year. The IIHS typically focuses on new cars, but in response to studies that suggest upward of 85% of families purchase a used vehicle for a new driver, it regularly publishes a list of used cars that meet set safety criteria. These rated cars range from about $2,000 to $20,000 -- so there is something appropriate and safe for every budget.
In defining safety, the IIHS is guided by four principles.
1. Young drivers should stay away from high horsepower. Faster cars = faster drivers. Not a good combination for inexperienced teens with still forming frontal lobes and a instinct to push the limits.
2. Bigger, heavier vehicles are safer.
3. Electronic Stability Control is a must.
4. Crash test results matter. Every vehicle must have a minimum "Good" rating on NHTSA tests.
The list has everything from Acuras to Volvos. It's not the end all -- and you can certainly pick a great vehicle that is not on the list, in fact, my leading contender is not on it. But it is a good place to start as you figure out what features are important to your family and what you budget allows.