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Are Older Cars Safer Than Newer Cars?

Posted on: April 29, 2022

People often form strong emotional attachments to their cars and trucks and for many, it can be hard to replace old clunkers with newer, safer models. According to a recent study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), holding onto the past in this way can be hazardous to your health.

The NHTSA claims that for all passenger vehicle occupants involved in fatal crashes in their report, the proportion of fatal injuries increased with the ages of the vehicles. In other words the older the vehicle, the more likely the chances are for fatal accidents. The NHTSA also specifically advises people who own vehicles made before the year 2000 to stop driving them and upgrade to newer models.

Are Cars Safer Today than in the Past?

The answer to this question is an unqualified yes: older vehicles that do not have these features and designs are often called “death traps on wheels.” Modern vehicles have advanced safety systems that alert drivers to dangers, and can also deploy the features when needed to avoid or lessen the effects of an accident. In fact, most people driving vehicles with these will have little or no injuries from a 40-mph frontal crash accident and will survive a 45 mph one, possibly with injuries.

Naturally, these safety systems have to be used to work, and when drivers turn them off they do not have the added protections. Sometimes people turn off these systems by mistake, so it is a good idea to check the settings occasionally. The same thing applies to seat belts, so if you do not wear yours, it cannot help you when you most need it.

The advanced systems are not the only things that make newer vehicles safer than older ones, either. Today’s cars also have high-strength steel and crumple zones, which disperse energy from impacts and protect passenger compartments. This only strengthens the importance of having a newer model car.

 What Did the Statistics Show?

This NHTSA study used statistics form the federal government’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, and also found that the improved safety features and quality of modern vehicles can be a “double-edged sword” in some cases. As crashworthiness and technologies improve, vehicles can last much longer. Even though newer cars are designed with safety in mind, they still become less safe and reliable as they age. The average amount of time that Americans keep their cars is around 11.6 years, which can be problematic even with ones manufactured after the year 2000. The numbers below show greater proportions of fatalities amongst occupants in deadly accidents in newer model vehicles compared to old models.

  • 2013 to 2017: 26 percent
  • 2008 to 2012: 31 percent
  • 2003 to 2007: 36 percent
  • 1998-2002: 42 percent
  • 1993-1997: 46 percent
  • 1985-1992: 53 percent
  • 1984 and older: 55 percent

The report also showed that occupant injury severity increased in proportion to the age of a vehicle.

Vehicle Age and Driver Age

Parents with teenage drivers often pass down older cars or buy used ones made before 2000, without realizing how much they are putting their children at risk. These new drivers might also try to save money, and end up buying “rust buckets” that everyone laughs at, but it is not really funny at all. Earlier research studies showed that the driver fatalities were more than 70 percent worse in early 1990s models, and younger drivers behind the wheels of these are especially vulnerable because they have less experience and can be more reckless than older drivers. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of fatalities for teenagers, and it is estimated that 40,000 lose their lives on our roads each year.

Other factors besides driver age have also been studied in detail. Researchers adjust their numbers to account for different variables, like driver blood alcohol content, type of road, miles per hour, and time of day. Safety belt use was also looked at – this obviously increases the chances of surviving an accident no matter the car’s age, but the odds of surviving when wearing one in a newer car are much better. For example, the chances of a seat-belted driver getting killed decreased from 46 percent in 19-year old cars down to 26 percent in newer ones.

Other Data That Supports Getting a Newer, Safer Vehicle

Even with all of the car safety data out there, many still believe that larger vehicles (no matter their age) are strong and solid enough to protect passengers if accidents occur. Interestingly, the opposite is true and this was shown in a crash test staged by the Institute for Highway Safety using a 1959 Bel Air and a 2009 Chevy Malibu. The 1959 Bel Air was smashed. Had the test dummy been a real person, he or she would have died from massive chest and head injuries. Even though it was a much bigger car and was made with steel, the older car did not have a head restraint, airbags, or engineering that was designed to protect drivers and passengers.

Back in 2009, that Malibu did not have sensors for automatic braking or cameras and radars to detect how close external objects are. The safety features and structure of modern vehicles are much better than those in 2009. Newer cars also have rear cross-traffic alerts, lane-departure warnings, adaptive cruise control and more.

Tips for Buying Safe Cars

The NHTSA, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and other safety advocacy groups are always conducting tests on vehicles, and are good sources for information on car safety. You can read the reviews and see which ones best protect occupants during crashes. Many are quite detailed, and analyze things like how well a car’s forward auto-braking system performs at different speeds, or specifics about the back-up camera features on certain models of SUVs.

Safety features sell cars, and it is hard to determine how much more you will have to pay for the advanced features. That is because they are integrated into the components, and have been for a long time. The cost of major things like advanced braking systems (ABS) and air bags seem to be trending downward; when ABS first became popular 10 years ago it cost around $1,500 and has leveled down to around $500.

Federal regulations are also a consideration, since many car safety features have been and continue to be mandated by the government. You cannot get away with buying new vehicles that do not have certain safety features, because they are no longer made that way. For example, NHTSA mandated dual airbags in SUVs and light trucks back in 1999.

If  you are still unable to part with your pre-2000 car or truck, remember that if it does get in an accident and/or need maintenance and repairs, it will get harder and harder to find places to have the work done. The parts are harder to find, too. On the other hand, repairing new vehicles with advanced safety features is not necessary a walk in the park either. Your mechanic must be trained and experienced with smart devices and know how to fix and install them. For the smart features to work properly, they have to be restored back to the manufacturer’s specifications.

The Freehold Car Accident Lawyers at Ellis Law Recognize the Importance of Driving Safer Cars

You can protect yourself and your loved ones by driving a newer vehicle with advanced safety features, but accidents with new and older cars and trucks happen every day. For a free consultation on any kind of automobile crash, contact the knowledgeable Freehold car accident lawyers at Ellis Law. Complete our online form, or call our office at 732-308-0200 for more information. Our coverage area includes Freehold, East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, New Jersey, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.

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