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Car Safety Features That Waste Your Money (And Some You Must Have)

Avoid paying more than you must on optional car safety equipment.

Lane-Departure Warning lamp

Safety is a top priority with new cars, as it should be. In 2017, USA Today estimated that deaths from car accidents reached 40,000 for the second consecutive year. With the latest technologies available from automakers, cars are safer than they’ve ever been before. While most of the features prevent injury, there are some that are unnecessary or even a waste of money. We’ve listed the top car safety features to help you weed through the good and the bad.

As science rapidly advances, there are more and more different safety technology options being tacked on to new car models. If car buying wasn’t already difficult enough, consumers now have to research what new vehicles come with the top safety features and safety ratings, whilst checking with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to see which vehicle is a safe car for a teen driver, or a parent. Did the car seats pass the crash test? Can the car handle bad weather and tricky road conditions? Will the car park itself or will I have to do it the old fashioned way?!

There are so many new, excellent features being added to new models, but some of them are just pointless. Rather than invest in some of the safe car features listed below, it might be best to avoid distracted driving, practice safe driving, and buy a car with decent safety ratings from the get go. But if you want specifics, here are a few options you can definitely live without:

Auto Safety Features to Avoid

When evaluating your next vehicle purchase, here are the ten car safety features you don’t need to invest your money on.

1. Automatic Steering Headlights

Automatic Steering Headlights exist to help drivers navigate at night easier. When enabled, the headlights of your car move to illuminate in a direction that your car is traveling.

Automatic steering headlights are meant to move synchronously with your steering to provide safe passage when driving at night. This sounds quite useful, but it might be less reliable.

When your headlights face the same direction as your vehicle, you don’t get a full view of what’s ahead. The lack of perception of the road leads to a big blind spot while traveling.

You want to see as much of the road and surroundings as possible while driving, especially at night.

2. Map Lights

Map lights are technically one of the car safety features you would think about. They relate more to a comfort amenity. The map lights are two smaller lights that are placed in front of both the passenger and driver seats. They illuminate the area around the driver and passenger’s lap so the driver doesn’t get blinded by the light.

When you need to read something at night, you simply turn on your map lights. We understand the concept of the lights, but they aren’t required much anymore. Most modern vehicles have a navigation system which reduces the chances you’re looking at a map during the night in the first place.

3. Proximity Warning Systems

With sensors located around the vehicle, warning systems detect if something’s located too close to your car. Once it detects something, it begins to trigger alerts that warn the driver.

This may sound useful at first thought, but it’s completely impractical. When the alert sounds, it gives no indication where the close objects lie. Therefore, the driver still has to find the item that’s close to them, making it nothing more than a distraction.

4. Following Distance Indicator

This displays the following time in relation to you and the vehicle in front of you. Ideally, it’s to keep you away from the car in front of you. Most of the time, cars use radar sensors or cameras located on the vehicle to operate this system. Then, there’s a display alerting you how far you are from the car in front of you.

This might not sound like a problem, but it’s one of the worst car safety features. First, it has the potential to completely confuse the driver when displays show time between the vehicles. Second, it’s always better to keep your eyes on what’s in front of you and keep a safe distance than to rely on this feature to hold you back.

5. Intelligent Headlamps

Automatic high beams turn your headlamps up to high beams and back to low again as needed. Usually, it operates with the help of a camera sensor placed at the front of your vehicle. This detects headlights or taillights from traffic in front of you.

As your car senses another vehicle driving on the opposite side of the road, it switches you back to low beams. Then, once the car is passed, and there are no other cars in front of you, the system turns on your high beams. The point is to improve visibility at night, but it’s much safer to switch your lights on your own as you need them.

6. Bird’s Eye-View Camera Technology

Of course, you want to see as much of the road as you can, but the bird’s eye view from Toyota simply is too much, and distracting. Cameras around the vehicles create a unique look of what’s around you. The cameras are located on your side mirrors, the front and rear of the car.

There are several problems with this concept, but the most important is how dizzy it can be for a driver. Since the display includes a moving camera, you have to hit pause if you want to stop movement.

7. Lane-Keeping Assist

Imagine you’re driving down the highway and you begin to veer out of your lane. A great system would help to keep you in your own pathway to avoid a collision. That’s the concept behind the Lane-Keeping Assist. As your car begins to travel outside of your lane, this technology works to gently steer you back into the lane.

This system is helpful until you need to switch lanes for some reason. There are times when the assist makes it hard to do what you need to. As you travel down the highway and need to switch lanes, this popular car safety feature may interrupt your natural action. It also might interfere if you need to make a quick change to avoid a collision.

In 2017, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety  (IIHS) estimated that the Lane-Keeping Assist programs were turned off about half of the time. This just proves how useless this system truly is.

8. Low-Speed Forward Automatic Braking

Low-speed forward automatic braking engages to reduce the impact of a crash or to avoid collision where possible. The vehicle uses sensors that analyze the car in front of you to determine if you’re going to crash. If a crash is imminent, the system alerts you. Then, if you still don’t respond, it engages the brakes automatically.

Again, these car safety features all sound useful, but there are better ways to avoid a crash. To start with, how about slowing down once you see traffic coming to a halt? Then, you won’t need the brakes to slam on to avoid a collision. By engaging the brakes in this manner, you encourage someone behind you to crash as well. The best way to avoid an accident on the road is to pay attention and drive smart. Then, you don’t need fancy car safety features to drive for you.

9. Parking Assist

Honestly, this is one of the car safety features that sound better on paper. When you’re ready to park, this assist helps you do it safely. It works when you perpendicular or parallel park. When it’s activated, the sensors on the car scan for a parking space that’s big enough. Once the system confirms that the spot will work, parking assist aides you in steering the car into the place.

Is there really a need for this? We just don’t think you need a system to scan parking spots for you to determine if you’ll fit. You should have done enough parking in your days to define what a good parking spot is. Furthermore, parking at the local Walmart isn’t really that difficult, is it?

10. Adaptive Cruise Control

While this is one of the car safety features meant to make life easier, we think it could be dangerous. Adaptive cruise control uses radars, cameras, and lasers to maintain the proper distance between vehicles ahead of you. This means, if traffic begins to slow down, the adaptive cruise control would also slow down. Then, it would regain speed when traffic starts to move faster.

With this system on, drivers only have to steer and pay attention as needed. This leads to a false sense of confidence. Allowing your car to decide when to speed up or slow down sounds like a disaster to us. Still, Consumer Reports estimates that 75% of people are happy with Adaptive Cruise Control.

Car Safety Features to Invest In

Now that we’ve shared with you all the car safety features we wouldn’t waste our money on, it’s time to look at the positive side. Here are the car safety features you’ll want in your next vehicle.

1. Active Head Restraints

When you’re involved in a collision, you want your neck and head to be protected from the sudden movement. When your head snaps back and forth suddenly, you might face whiplash. This is because of the ligaments in your neck that stretch beyond the typical range of motion.

Most often this occurs during a rear-end collision. On top of that, a Chicago lawyer estimates that over 50% of people that suffer from whiplash will have chronic pain for decades after the accident. With active head restraints, you prevent this from occurring. When a crash is detected because of the force of an occupant on their car seat back, restraints are activated. This automatically moves the restraint forward slightly to support their head and prevent further impact to the neck.

2. Airbag Systems

Your airbags are the most important of all the available car safety features during a collision. When the airbags deploy, your chance of injury lowers significantly. The airbag absorbs all the shock resulting from an impact. Crash tests have supported this for years.

Front airbags have been used in cars as one of the standard car safety features since 1999, but now there are complete systems in place. Some of the other airbags you might be able to opt for include knee airbags and side curtain airbags. It’s important to note that while the airbags do prevent a lot of injuries, it’s essential to protect children from the impact. That’s why the IIHS recommends all children 12 and younger sit in the back seat of a vehicle.

3. Blindspot Warning

The NHTSA estimates that 40% of a car’s exterior is hidden by blind spots. That’s why so many of accidents occurring today happen because of the blind spots. Automakers released a solution to this with the Blindspot Warning.

Using radar or cameras, the system alerts drivers when another vehicle or object is in the blind spot. Often it comes from an audible signal or indicator that flashes on the side-mirror or A-pillar. This is one of the auto safety features you don’t want to neglect.

4. Rearview Camera

Just as important as the Blindspot Warning in the scheme of car safety features, the Rearview Camera is a must-have piece of equipment. It helps drivers avoid other people or objects while in reverse. Most of the time the camera is mounted on the vehicle’s dash, making it easy to see what’s behind you.

In 2016, the IIHS estimated that rearview cameras prevented one in six backing crashes. They also felt that older drivers benefitted the most from these systems. With this superior car safety feature, you’ll feel more comfortable backing out of a parking space or your driveway.

5. Tire Pressure Monitoring

A major threat to your safety on the road revolves around your tires and their overall health. Tire pressure is critical to your security. The NHTSA estimates that about 700 people die a year due to tire-related crashes. Underinflated tires also cause sluggish handling and trouble stopping. When you don’t address your underinflated tires, you’re more susceptible to a blowout and tire separation.

Over-inflation is also an issue because it leads to premature wear. It’s a delicate balance that previously required checking your tire pressures often to ensure you were safe. Now, automakers use a tire-pressure monitoring system and low-tire-pressure warnings in modern vehicles. These automatically track the pressure for all your tires. If they are low, the warning light alerts you so you can fix it before there’s a problem. This is one of the vehicle safety features you must invest in.

6. Rear Automatic Emergency Braking and Cross-Traffic Alert

When you put your car into reverse, you normally focus on what’s behind you. Because of this, it’s difficult to monitor what’s coming in the path your moving into. If an oncoming vehicle is headed at you, it’s hard to notice it.

With Rear Cross-Traffic Alert combined with Rear Automatic Emergency Braking, you’re in better shape than without. The Rear Cross-Traffic Alerts lets you know when approaching cars might cross into your path. Then, the Rear Automatic Emergency Braking System detects objects and engages the brakes if the driver doesn’t. This helps to avoid a collision. The IIHS estimates that a combination of the rear auto-brake, rear parking sensors, and rearview camera reduce crashes by 78%.

7. Lane-Departure Warning

Unlike the Lane-Keeping Assist we told you about earlier, the Lane-Departure Warning is one of the car safety features we think is beneficial. It’s great to rely on when traveling a long stretch of highway. As people get comfortable, it’s normal to veer off of the lane unintentionally. This often leads to collision or the chance to run off the road. People get hurt or die on a regular basis because of this type of accident.

With the Lane-Departure Warning system, lasers and cameras monitor the lane markers on the road. Then, it alerts you if the vehicle begins to veer out of its lane. The good part about this system is that it doesn’t sound if your turn signals are on, so switching lanes won’t be an issue. The IIHS estimates crashes lowered by 11% because of the technology and injuries were reduced by 21%.

8. Pedestrian Detection System

When vehicles use sensors and cameras for safety purposes, they often don’t detect anything but large cars. This prevents them from seeing pedestrians or cyclists. In 2017, USA Today stated that almost 6,000 were killed.

With a Pedestrian Detection System, drivers receive alerts when the sensors pick up a cyclist or pedestrian in the path. Some of the advanced systems even engage your brakes when needed to avoid a collision. Of course, paying attention to the road is the best way to avoid hitting a pedestrian, but this one of the best backup car safety features that’s good to have, just in case.

9. Electronic Stability Control

Modern cars come with Electronic Stability Control, and it’s a good thing. This is one of the car safety features that keep you on the road and safe from harm. It prevents drivers from losing control over their car’s direction. With this technology, you have less of a chance of rolling over from a spin out.

Electronic Stability Control works with the use of sensors which determine the vehicle’s direction. It also monitors your steering wheel position and your brakes. If the system determines that your car begins to head in a direction that wasn’t intended, it corrects the vehicle by engaging individual brakes and adjusting the speed.

10. Forward-Collision Warning

At the end of our best car safety features list, you’ll find Forward-Collision Warning. Think of a time you were heading down the road and the car in front of you decided to come to a sudden stop. There’s very little that can be done at the moment, and most people don’t react fast enough to avoid an accident when traveling at higher speeds.

The Forward-Collison Warning system uses radar and detects other vehicles or obstacles in front of you to prevent a crash. This system works even better if it’s combined with Autonomous Braking System. With that said, it’s difficult to find this car safety feature without also incorporating the Low-Speed Forward Automatic Braking. If you remember, we told you that system was one of the car safety features we don’t recommend.

Final Thoughts Regarding Vehicle Safety Features

Your safety on the road is paramount and you should use anything you can that you feel encourages protection. If you believe these driver assistance systems help you, then far be it for us to tell you differently. Just use caution that you aren’t relying on these car safety features to do the driving for you. Crash avoidance shouldn’t be a machine’s responsibility! It’s crucial that you maintain responsibility for your actions on the road. Don’t pay for auto safety features you don’t need, but do listen to prescribed safety tips, and practice safe driving at all times!

About Brian Jones

Brian Jones spent over 30-years at various dealerships as an ASE Certified Master Tech. These days he works with those dealerships to create quality automotive content while spending more time with his family near Dallas, TX. In his spare time, you'll still find him playing with tools, cars, and many other "manly" gadgets. Brian's passions include traveling, pickup trucks, and anything related to motorsports.