Author Topic: How to reason about car safety features...  (Read 5414 times)

Rulefollowing

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How to reason about car safety features...
« on: January 26, 2016, 03:49:08 PM »
Hi folks,

Here's a dilemma I'd like help with: How to value car safety features?

My wife and I own one car, a 2002 Toyota Corolla.  It has 115,000 miles on it.  We bought it new in 2002.

The car seems to run just fine.  It has not been crashed.

(We commute 12 minutes each way by car from our job -- same jobsite.  Sometimes we ride our bikes instead. We occasionally drive on highways to nearby cities (~1 hour). We don't speed or drive recklessly.)

Our mechanic -- whom we trust -- expects the car will go for another 100k miles, easily.  For us, that could be another decade or more.

There was recently an article in the WSJ that argued that car safety has been drastically improved over the last decade. Apparently, innovative car safety features have drastically lowered deaths in recent years. Especially important, apparently, are features such as anti-lock brakes, stability control, side airbags, traction control, all of which have become standard in cars over the last decade or so.

Our 2002 Corolla has none of these features.  Its safety features are: front airbags; seat belts.

So ... we could easily save $10K or so and buy a newer used car, one which would have the aforementioned safety features.

Of course, if we did that we would forego the investment value of the $10K, which would otherwise be going straight into VTSAX.

Probably the Corolla would have very little re-sale value, since it is so old and is not super attractive.  (We never imagined we would sell it, so we haven't been trying to keep it pristine.)

The question we are chewing on is how to value car safety features.

How likely are we to have a crash in which the absence of such safety features is a big deal -- i.e. someone gets hurt badly because of the lack of one or more of those features?

Are some of the aforementioned safety features much more useful than others? 

Does anyone have way of thinking through this question? 

I understand that the matter is likely to be somewhat subjective, in terms of individual risk tolerance, but I imagine that some of this is about factors that can be understood better than I do.

Hints?

Thanks, friends!

Michael

JLee

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Re: How to reason about car safety features...
« Reply #1 on: January 26, 2016, 03:57:36 PM »
ABS/stability control weren't fully mandatory until 2011-2012. Side impact airbags are not mandatory at all.

Traction control is really a non-issue for a low-powered FWD car - you don't really have enough power to spin your tires (except in snow and maybe rain, if your tires aren't any good). If you do manage to spin your tires, you'll just go straight.

Newer cars will have more safety features than yours, but just getting something a few years newer may not make all that much of a difference.

Uturn

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Re: How to reason about car safety features...
« Reply #2 on: January 26, 2016, 04:10:20 PM »
The fact that you have 110k miles with no body damage tells me you know how to pretty drive well, and that is about the best safety feature you can have.  If the tires, brakes, suspension are in good order, I wouldn't worry about it. 

I put tons of miles on cars from the 60's when I was a teenager through mid 20's.  This is the time I had the least experience and lacked good judgement, and didn't crash due to no traction control or passive braking systems. 

However, if you are just tired of looking at a 14 year old Corolla, then yes, safety features are a great excuse.  Well, except for the stability control.  Ever try to roll a Corolla? 

tobitonic

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Re: How to reason about car safety features...
« Reply #3 on: January 26, 2016, 04:31:42 PM »
There was recently an article in the WSJ that argued that car safety has been drastically improved over the last decade. Apparently, innovative car safety features have drastically lowered deaths in recent years. Especially important, apparently, are features such as anti-lock brakes, stability control, side airbags, traction control, all of which have become standard in cars over the last decade or so.

Our 2002 Corolla has none of these features.  Its safety features are: front airbags; seat belts.

You are correct. I'm a minority on this forum in that I believe most of the features you listed, with stability control and ESC in particular, are absolutely worth having in a vehicle. I've been on both ends of the spectrum, and was happily driving a car from the mid-90s just a few years ago that had front airbags, seat belts, and got me close to 50 mpg.

Quote
The question we are chewing on is how to value car safety features.

How likely are we to have a crash in which the absence of such safety features is a big deal -- i.e. someone gets hurt badly because of the lack of one or more of those features?

Off the top of my head, about half of all auto fatalities are single vehicle crashes (the kind where people run off the road into trees, rollovers, etc). ESC is estimated to cut the risk of a single vehicle fatality by 50%.

Similarly, your odds of surviving a side impact collision with side airbags (head and torso) are significantly greater than your odds without; the fatality reduction is around 37% in cars and about 52% in SUVs.

Quote
Are some of the aforementioned safety features much more useful than others? 

Yes - ESC is considered to be the biggest auto safety invention since the seat belt. Side airbags are the equivalent for side impact collisions.

Quote
Does anyone have way of thinking through this question? 

I understand that the matter is likely to be somewhat subjective, in terms of individual risk tolerance, but I imagine that some of this is about factors that can be understood better than I do.

Hints?

Thanks, friends!

Michael

I'm not a car safety nut, but I follow a few sites by folks who are. The short solution would be to visit this blog: www.thecarcrashdetective.com. It's very much on the safety end of things (e.g., advocating rear-facing kids until 4 or more), but if you're looking for reasons to upgrade to the most important safety features (and not necessarily to the newest cars), you'll find them.

Oh, and you don't need to spend a lot of money to get vehicles with side airbags and ESC. I'm pretty sure the guy is a Mustachian at heart with articles like this:
www.thecarcrashdetective.com/2015/12/safest-affordable-used-cars-for-teen-drivers-2016.html/
« Last Edit: January 26, 2016, 04:33:42 PM by tobitonic »

Paul der Krake

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Re: How to reason about car safety features...
« Reply #4 on: January 26, 2016, 04:47:14 PM »
As someone who literally just t-boned a supersized SUV at 40 mph in a 20 year old rust bucket... my opinion is pretty much the same as before.

They're nice to have and it's a good thing they are slowly being rolled out to newer models. But that's not going to make me buy something new.

kpd905

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Re: How to reason about car safety features...
« Reply #5 on: January 26, 2016, 05:09:59 PM »
Don't use it as an excuse to buy a brand new car, you could just end up being a guinea pig for something that gets recalled later (stuck accelerator pedal, airbag shrapnel).
« Last Edit: January 26, 2016, 05:13:39 PM by kpd905 »

calimom

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Re: How to reason about car safety features...
« Reply #6 on: January 26, 2016, 05:18:30 PM »
This is probably very un-Mustachian of me, but I drive a Volvo station wagon - the V70.  My husband was killed in a side impact car crash (a drunk driver ran a red light).  For several years after, I had a 2002 VW Passat, during years my youngest two were in child car seats.  I never felt fully safe in that car, and I fully confess to being freakier than probably most people are.  But when the VW developed some expensive repairs, I took that opportunity to upgrade to the Volvo, which I found used (paying cash Mustachian-style :) ) and have felt much more secure driving it around.  It has incredible safety features, and even has the optional rear facing third seat.

One car I was seriously considering was the Subaru Outback, it is very highly rated.  I do agree with the frugality of older cars, but the reality is newer is generally safer.

MayDay

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Re: How to reason about car safety features...
« Reply #7 on: January 26, 2016, 05:29:20 PM »
We have an '03 Civic.  No AL breaks, no side air bags, no ESC.  Those are the big 3 that Consumer Reports says are worth having.

We have stopped using it for long road trips, and although it will definitely last until our oldest child is driving, we will sell it before then.  I'm not super duper worried about it being a death trap or anything, but I do notice times when ESC and AL breaks help with control in poor conditions (winter). 

Our other car is an '04 but it does have those 3 features (it was the top of the line model, the Civic is the middle model).

GuitarStv

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Re: How to reason about car safety features...
« Reply #8 on: January 26, 2016, 05:30:54 PM »
If you want to radically improve your car safety, drive on lower speed roads rather than high speed freeways.  If you want to improve safety even more, drive less.

Personally, I expect my driving habits will radically change when I'm retired.  I just won't be on the road during the busiest/most crash prone times of day because I'll be able to set my own schedule.  I won't be out there driving in bad weather conditions.  We might even be able to go carless.  If keeping your current car gets you FI earlier, any perceived safety from a new car might actually be a wash in the long term.

Tjat

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Re: How to reason about car safety features...
« Reply #9 on: January 26, 2016, 07:02:48 PM »
I work in insurance and have experience modeling the reduced loss costs that such discounts offer. The only ones that really make a material difference to injury costs (medpay, pip coverages) are

- Airbags (more the better)
- Anti-lock brakes (4 wheel)
- Electronic Stability/Traction Control

The doo dads like collision avoidance, heads up display, alertness monitor likely help, but aren't nearly as significant.

Rulefollowing

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Re: How to reason about car safety features...
« Reply #10 on: January 26, 2016, 10:20:24 PM »
Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts, expertise and informative links.

Calimom-- I am sorry for your loss.

Taran Wanderer

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Re: How to reason about car safety features...
« Reply #11 on: January 26, 2016, 11:21:25 PM »
After five years as a firefighter, I concluded the following:
- the best way to avoid being killed in a car crash to avoid one.  Drive cautiously and take advantage of the maneuverability of a car vs. a truck or SUV.
- slow down. Your kinetic energy is a function of the square of your speed. In other words, you have nearly twice as much energy at 70mph (70 x 70 = 4900) as you do at 50mph (50 x 50 = 2500).
- never, ever, ever, ever get T-boned. Side airbags and steel reinforcement can still not stop a multi-thousand pound vehicle.  (My condolences, Calimom.)
- avoid crashing head on with a much heavier vehicle. You will lose. It's safer to to hit a stationary object than a 7,000 pound pickup or a 70,000 pound semi going the other way at 60+ mph.
- I would disagree about driving back roads instead of freeways. Freeways are much safer than roads with opposing traffic approaching you at high speeds.
- when on busy two-lane roads with a wide shoulder, drive as close to the white outside line and as far from opposing traffic as safely possible.
- when on lightly trafficked two-lane roads with no shoulder, drive as close to the center line as possible. As noted above, a high proportion crashes and single vehicle crashes, often from catching the edge of the pavement and over-correcting.
- this last one may not be mustachian, but drive a heavier car. Based on what I've seen, the heavier car in the crash usually wins. I drive a Volvo V70, a nice mix of maneuverability, weight, safety features, not terrible mileage, and comfort. A Toyota Corolla doesn't beat two many things for weight beside bikes and motorcycles.
- I almost forgot the last one. No motorcycles.

Rulefollowing

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Re: How to reason about car safety features...
« Reply #12 on: January 27, 2016, 07:00:48 AM »
Thanks, Taran Wanderer, for sharing your hard-won expertise.

Capt Stubble

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Re: How to reason about car safety features...
« Reply #13 on: January 27, 2016, 04:20:48 PM »

- this last one may not be mustachian, but drive a heavier car. Based on what I've seen, the heavier car in the crash usually wins. I drive a Volvo V70, a nice mix of maneuverability, weight, safety features, not terrible mileage, and comfort. A Toyota Corolla doesn't beat two many things for weight beside bikes and motorcycles.
- I almost forgot the last one. No motorcycles.

Great post. I've seen some discussion about relative safety between bicycles and cars, but do you have a statistical comparison of motorcycles vs bikes vs cars? This group is very pro bike and I get that, but every time I see cyclists riding on a busy street or road with their backs to the traffic, I cringe. What are your thoughts?

Blonde Lawyer

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Re: How to reason about car safety features...
« Reply #14 on: January 27, 2016, 08:10:28 PM »
Calimom, I'm so sorry for your loss.  There is no excuse for drunk driving.  :(

The Happy Philosopher

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Re: How to reason about car safety features...
« Reply #15 on: January 27, 2016, 08:26:42 PM »

- this last one may not be mustachian, but drive a heavier car. Based on what I've seen, the heavier car in the crash usually wins. I drive a Volvo V70, a nice mix of maneuverability, weight, safety features, not terrible mileage, and comfort. A Toyota Corolla doesn't beat two many things for weight beside bikes and motorcycles.
- I almost forgot the last one. No motorcycles.

Great post. I've seen some discussion about relative safety between bicycles and cars, but do you have a statistical comparison of motorcycles vs bikes vs cars? This group is very pro bike and I get that, but every time I see cyclists riding on a busy street or road with their backs to the traffic, I cringe. What are your thoughts?
Complex question but in general my conclusions from looking at all the data:

1. Cars are safer than motorcycles, hands down. Doesn't matter how you break it down in terms of experience, training, etc. each mile on a motorcycle is more dangerous than a car and there are no health benefits to riding a motorcycle. A motorcycle is a high risk form of transportation , only do it if you derive joy out of it.

2. Mile per mile cars are much safer than bicycles, HOWEVER there are other benefits to riding a bike that you can find reading hundreds of discussions here. Ride a bike because it saves you money, makes you healthier and more badass...but you are taking a risk. Reduce that risk as much as possible and live with it.

3. A high percentage of bike fatalities occur at intersections and due to turning cars, not being hit from behind by a swerving driver. Treat all intersections as if the grim reaper is coming for you. When you bike pretend you are invisible to cars.

tobitonic

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Re: How to reason about car safety features...
« Reply #16 on: January 27, 2016, 09:12:31 PM »

- this last one may not be mustachian, but drive a heavier car. Based on what I've seen, the heavier car in the crash usually wins. I drive a Volvo V70, a nice mix of maneuverability, weight, safety features, not terrible mileage, and comfort. A Toyota Corolla doesn't beat two many things for weight beside bikes and motorcycles.
- I almost forgot the last one. No motorcycles.

Great post. I've seen some discussion about relative safety between bicycles and cars, but do you have a statistical comparison of motorcycles vs bikes vs cars? This group is very pro bike and I get that, but every time I see cyclists riding on a busy street or road with their backs to the traffic, I cringe. What are your thoughts?

The stats are pretty consistent that, per mile traveled, you're around 30x more likely to die while riding a motorcycle than while driving a car. Cars also win out over bikes in this respect, although I can't remember the stats offhand.

tobitonic

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Re: How to reason about car safety features...
« Reply #17 on: January 27, 2016, 09:15:47 PM »
- never, ever, ever, ever get T-boned. Side airbags and steel reinforcement can still not stop a multi-thousand pound vehicle.  (My condolences, Calimom.)

First of all, my condolences to Calimom as well. I can't imagine losing a spouse, especially with children.

However, this bit is not accurate. There are a great many vehicles on the road today designed to allow you to walk away from a 31 mph side impact by a small SUV. These are vehicles with "good" side impact ratings by the IIHS. Will these vehicles keep you from dying if you're t-boned at highway speeds? No. But are they designed to keep you alive and safe in an urban / suburban t-bone with a normal-sized vehicle? Absolutely. This is one of the strongest reasons to consider a vehicle upgrade.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHGBZSnKnO8

That's a video of a 12-year old vehicle with a "good" side rating. The technology has been available for some time, but it reached different makes in different years. My Sienna is 11 years old and has a "good" side rating, and my wife's Odyssey is 10 with a similar rating. I bought both vehicles specifically for these reasons. They both cost well under the price of a new car, and I expect both to be running 200,000 miles from now if we keep them that long. Safety doesn't have to break the bank, but if you're shopping with a belief that it's "an expensive illusion", as MMM would say, then this stuff isn't going to be on your radar.
« Last Edit: January 27, 2016, 09:22:25 PM by tobitonic »

Primm

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Re: How to reason about car safety features...
« Reply #18 on: January 27, 2016, 10:17:22 PM »

- this last one may not be mustachian, but drive a heavier car. Based on what I've seen, the heavier car in the crash usually wins. I drive a Volvo V70, a nice mix of maneuverability, weight, safety features, not terrible mileage, and comfort. A Toyota Corolla doesn't beat two many things for weight beside bikes and motorcycles.
- I almost forgot the last one. No motorcycles.

Great post. I've seen some discussion about relative safety between bicycles and cars, but do you have a statistical comparison of motorcycles vs bikes vs cars? This group is very pro bike and I get that, but every time I see cyclists riding on a busy street or road with their backs to the traffic, I cringe. What are your thoughts?
Complex question but in general my conclusions from looking at all the data:

1. Cars are safer than motorcycles, hands down. Doesn't matter how you break it down in terms of experience, training, etc. each mile on a motorcycle is more dangerous than a car and there are no health benefits to riding a motorcycle. A motorcycle is a high risk form of transportation , only do it if you derive joy out of it.


There's a reason health professionals refer to motorcycle riders as potential organ donors...

Taran Wanderer

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Re: How to reason about car safety features...
« Reply #19 on: January 27, 2016, 10:30:27 PM »
To be fair, I based my comments about side impacts on a limited dataset of personal experience that included a slow speed older car and several high speed impacts. They didn't turn out well.

Also, I am a cyclist, including road biking. I try to be cautious, visible, and choose my routes carefully specially around sunrise and sunset when visibility can be difficult. At intersections, I'm especially vigilant and take special care to make eye contact with car drivers, though I've had them make eye contact and look right through me, so it is not a cure-all.

One big difference between bicycles and motorcycles, though, is speed.  Typically on a bicycle I am going less than 20mph.  Rarely I'll be between 20 and 25mph on the flat with a tailwind, but going faster only downhill. If I'm going 15-20 mph and I T-bone a car that pulls out in front of me, I maybe break something. It a motorcyclist is going 45-55mph, the consequences are much more severe. So, yes to bicycles and be super careful, but no to motorcycles, at least for me.

Finally, a funny story. While in the fire department, I responded to a local MVA. Two cars, partial offset frontal collision, probably 25mph or so at impact, maybe less. The smaller of the two cars was pretty trashed - lots of body damage, airbags blown, glass broken, etc. - and the driver was shaken up but not injured and was going to walk away from it. The lady was complaining about her totaled car, "They just don't make them like they used to..."  We responded, "Lady, if they made them like they used to, you'd be dead!"

big_owl

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Re: How to reason about car safety features...
« Reply #20 on: January 28, 2016, 06:04:21 AM »
Lot of hateration nation for motorcycles around here.  Not that big a deal since I understand some people just aren't wired to enjoy it, and I agree it's certainly more dangerous than driving a car.  That said, once you rule out drunk driving and young guys on sportbikes doing stupid shit you cut down on a lot of the fatalities.  Around here it's typically harley riders in the middle of the night in single vehicle accidents....hmmm.  Last year had a rash of bicycle riders killed in the county, maybe even as many as motorcycle riders.

I feel much more comfortable on a motorcycle traveling at highway speeds or just above the speed of surrounding cars than I do on a bicycle getting passed by cars left and right.  At least on the motorcycle I generally control the situation whereas I'm much more at the mercy of other drivers avoiding me while on the bicycle.  The only time on a motorcycle I tend to feel nervous is when I'm coming up to a 4-way intersection with the right of way at highway speed and all the other cars are stopped and waiting to go.  Then my eyes dart back and fourth to each car's wheels waiting for one of the idiots to decide he wants to turn right or blow the light and mow me down.  Oh and when I'm the first one stopped at a light on a highway.  I watch my rear view mirrors continuously until the first car behind me stops.  Don't want to get rear-ended. 


GuitarStv

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Re: How to reason about car safety features...
« Reply #21 on: January 28, 2016, 06:34:48 AM »
Great post. I've seen some discussion about relative safety between bicycles and cars, but do you have a statistical comparison of motorcycles vs bikes vs cars? This group is very pro bike and I get that, but every time I see cyclists riding on a busy street or road with their backs to the traffic, I cringe. What are your thoughts?
Complex question but in general my conclusions from looking at all the data:

1. Cars are safer than motorcycles, hands down. Doesn't matter how you break it down in terms of experience, training, etc. each mile on a motorcycle is more dangerous than a car and there are no health benefits to riding a motorcycle. A motorcycle is a high risk form of transportation , only do it if you derive joy out of it.

2. Mile per mile cars are much safer than bicycles, HOWEVER there are other benefits to riding a bike that you can find reading hundreds of discussions here. Ride a bike because it saves you money, makes you healthier and more badass...but you are taking a risk. Reduce that risk as much as possible and live with it.

3. A high percentage of bike fatalities occur at intersections and due to turning cars, not being hit from behind by a swerving driver. Treat all intersections as if the grim reaper is coming for you. When you bike pretend you are invisible to cars.

Also important to note . . . fewer accidents with cars happen while cycling on the road than on the sidewalk.  Sidewalks are normally peppered with many driveways, and motorists aren't expecting someone to be traveling as fast as a bicycle on the sidewalk.  The stats back this up.  Although it's counter intuitive, you should be cringing every time you see someone cycling on the sidewalk.

Paul der Krake

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Re: How to reason about car safety features...
« Reply #22 on: January 28, 2016, 07:31:03 AM »
Finally, a funny story. While in the fire department, I responded to a local MVA. Two cars, partial offset frontal collision, probably 25mph or so at impact, maybe less. The smaller of the two cars was pretty trashed - lots of body damage, airbags blown, glass broken, etc. - and the driver was shaken up but not injured and was going to walk away from it. The lady was complaining about her totaled car, "They just don't make them like they used to..."  We responded, "Lady, if they made them like they used to, you'd be dead!"
Right. The front of the car crumpling upon impact is a feature, not a bug.

Eric

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Re: How to reason about car safety features...
« Reply #23 on: January 28, 2016, 12:21:17 PM »
I feel much more comfortable on a motorcycle traveling at highway speeds or just above the speed of surrounding cars than I do on a bicycle getting passed by cars left and right.

If you're getting passed on both the left and right, you're in the wrong lane.