Explained: Are Modern Cars Safer Than Older Models?

25th April 2018

Are you buying a new car? Have you ever wondered if modern cars are better and safer than older models?

Over the last few decades engineers have invented new technologies that make driving cars safer than ever- this is a pivotal moment in history for modern car safety.

Many car enthusiasts believe that the new added features introduced within the last twenty years automatically makes modern cars safer. Manufacturers are constantly pushing the limits of what is possible today and keep up with the latest trends. Others believe older models are more efficient, raw and unmodified as you are not relying on a computer to guide you on the road. The debate on these cars have been ongoing especially since manufacturers are under pressure to constantly make their cars road worthy.

Expert John Chettleburgh is a Vehicle Type Approver for the Vehicle Certification Agency dedicated to the UK Approval Authority and Technical Service for all cars in the European Community. With more than 20 years’ experience, he supports the transportation industry by providing certification and testing for cars, their systems and components on a daily basis. He gives his expertise on modern car safety and the measures the agency take to ensure both modern and classic cars are safe for roads.

1) How do you certify cars?

“We do a series of tests or inspections. There are round about 50-60 subjects we do. Everything from environmental to car safety. We check the body structure and make sure its sound. We check for crash tests, seatbelts and a whole range of stuff.

2) In terms of vehicle design technology would you say older vehicles or modern vehicles are safer?

“Modern vehicles by a huge amount. There are astonishing features for a start, there are great advances in both active and passive safety and primary and secondary safety as well. 30 years ago we didn’t have airbags we didn’t have Anti Braking Systems and only a few years prior to that seat belts were an optional extra. So modern cars are phenomenally safer than what they were 15 years ago. ”

3) What security tests do you do to ensure cars are safe for the roads?

“We don’t but every vehicle in the UK has to undergo an MOT on a yearly basis to ensure that it meets a minimum standard of road worthiness.”


4) What efforts do you make to save lives?

“We make sure we keep on top of any trends that may be apparent in the overall scheme of road safety. So if a vehicle is causing a problem we’ll be involved with working groups to ensure that legislations are in place to make sure new cars are built to a standard. If it’s an urgent problem then the stuff is rushed through a great speed but if it’s something that is of a low trend that has been going on for years then eventually the European Commission will get round to it and fix it.”

5) Would you feel safer having learners driving modern cars?

“New cars for sure. The ability to have ABS systems are incredible and also stability control as well is a benefit to vehicle control. Learners will be safer in modern cars.”

6) What would be the most effective way of reducing accidents and injuries on our roads?

“Better training- it’s as simple as that. The cars themselves are pretty full-proof now compared to what I learned to drive in. You’d have to work very hard to have an accident these days. So it’s really the driver at fault.”

7) What do you think the safest car is today and why?

“That’s a tricky question because everything meets a minimum standard these days. In the last few years we’ve seen things like brake assists, ABS and stability control become more mandated as well as pedestrian protection systems. The best one to study will be the N-Cap ratings and they will give you crash performance. More manufacturers aim for a 4 or 5 star performance. So you’ll see there’s more of a natural performance. The unsafe cars I guess would be those from emerging markets so I’d be less confident driving a car from China or India. I don’t think it would be built to quite the same standards of a European or Japanese car. Although the Volvo C90 won ‘Safest Car of the Year Award’ that is subjective to that panel. The differences in the top end of cars is so small these days that you’d be half-pushed as a consumer to be able to tell the difference.

Find out which brands have changed the most in the last 10 years in the video below.

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