Understanding safety

Automotive Corner

By Preston Pettit

Contributing Writer


Which safety features should a car have? If you ask me, it depends on the car. On the other hand, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is starting to mandate new features on all cars per updates to federal law.

Some of these new safety features are a little gratuitous. As a licensed state vehicle safety inspector, I understand safety is important, but does a Toyota Yaris really need a back-up camera to watch for children behind it in a parking lot? Or would it be just as safe, and more importantly, cheaper, if I checked behind my car and used my mirrors to look behind me to avoid backing over little Timmy on his tricycle?

The problem we run into as drivers is that even though our vehicles have safety features, we often still push cars beyond their limits. A good example is traction control: put it on a 14-passenger van, and that’s a great idea. Put it on a sports car to make driving in the rain easier? Perfect. But base model Mini Cooper? Let’s face it, if you need traction control on a very stable front-wheel-drive car that already has wheels at the edges of its platform, thus making it even more stable, driving may not be your forte.

I will concede that I love features like anti-lock brakes. They allow me to steer while breaking in the rain, thus keeping me from smashing into poles while speeding through the dark. I love the three-point seat belts invented by Volvo in the 1950s, because I have driven cars that only had lap belts. If you wrecked in those, your face would automatically smash into the metal dash, causing you to lose teeth. By now, standard features should include four-wheel disc brakes, headrests to reduce whiplash and the list goes on.

But the second the government starts mandating airline-style black box recording devices in cars for insurance reasons, I give up. Services like this do only two things: one, cost money, and two, make you look like a lunatic.

If you ask me, NHTSA should look more closely at more basic safety devices, such as headlamps that steer with the car. At least then I’ll be able to see where I am going late at night.

Pettit is a current student enrolled in the Automotive Technology program at Brookhaven and an employee of National Tire and Battery.