With all the new, high-tech safety features touted by automakers, you'd think we could stop worrying about traffic accidents.
But a new report from the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) shows why we can't let down our guard.
Although new technology reduces the odds of crashing and getting hurt in an accident, it takes at least 30 years for a safety feature introduced on a luxury vehicle to trickle down to lower-cost vehicles on the road, institute researchers found.
Take air bags, for instance. Automakers started including frontal air bags in vehicles in the mid-1980s -- back when Ronald Reagan was president and "The Cosby Show" topped the TV ratings charts. But we still have four years to go before 95 percent of all registered vehicles are equipped with frontal air bags, the study's authors say.
Some new features could take even longer to reach the whole fleet. HLDI researchers predict we might have to wait until 2049 for forward warning collision systems to be installed in 95 percent of all registered vehicles. Introduced in some new U.S. vehicles in 2000, the systems use cameras or radar sensors to alert drivers to potential crashes.
A couple of factors cause the long wait before safety features become nearly universal, the institute says. First, it takes time for those new features to become standard on all new vehicles. And second, some people hold onto their cars for many years, so there are a lot of older models out on the roads.
Federal laws mandating safety features and ratings that reward automakers for improving safety can hasten inclusion of safety features in new cars, according to the institute.
Although you can't control what other people drive, you can reduce your chance of getting injured in a car accident by choosing a safe vehicle next time you buy or lease a car. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety publishes ratings for all the vehicles it tests. To earn the institute's Top Safety Pick award, vehicles must get good scores for protecting occupants in front, side, rear and rollover crashes.
Besides keeping you safe, choosing a vehicle with the latest safety features can help you get better car insurance rates.