Car Safety Features: What You Need to Know

These are the most important safety features to know when you’re shopping for a car.
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Written by Funto Omojola
Lead Writer
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Assigning Editor
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Car safety features help minimize the chances of accidents and reduce driver and passenger injuries when collisions happen. Examples of standard safety features include airbags, anti-lock brakes and backup cameras, while more advanced features include forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking.

Safety features have been proven to make a difference, which is why it's crucial that drivers are informed about them. A 2022 study from the Partnership for Analytics Research in Traffic Safety (PARTS) found that advanced safety features — like forward collision alert and automatic emergency braking — reduced crash rates by 49% and the risk of injuries during crashes by 53%.

Standard safety features

Most safety features, like front airbags and anti-lock brakes, have been federally mandated for decades. Here’s how they work. (Note that the features are listed alphabetically.)


Airbags automatically inflate and provide protection for passengers during a crash. Front airbags have been required in all passenger cars, some trucks and vans since 1999. Although side airbags aren't federally mandated, most manufacturers provide them as standard equipment.

Anti-lock brakes (ABS)

Anti-lock brakes are a crucial traction control feature because they prevent skidding when a driver loses steering control due to locked wheels. Locked wheels typically happen as a result of braking hard. ABS uses sensors to detect when a car’s tires are about to lock during emergency braking situations, then releases the brakes before it happens. Like airbags, anti-lock braking systems are federally mandated for all passenger cars and large trucks.

Backup camera

Backup cameras are engaged when a car is placed in reverse. This feature allows drivers to see their rear view through a screen that's typically in the center console or rear-view mirror of the car. Backup cameras have been required in all new cars in the U.S. since 2018 and are important for steering into or out of a parking spot as well as spotting objects or people behind a car.

Electronic stability control (ESC)

Electronic stability control systems have been required in all new cars since 2011. The safety feature uses ABS and traction control technology to help drivers maintain control and keep a car on its intended path. This technology can detect a vehicle's rotations, wheel speed, steering angle and sideways motion, and is activated during difficult turns, instances of skidding or hydroplaning. When ESC is activated, it engages the brake on each wheel to move the car back to its correct path.

LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children)

LATCH has been required in all passenger cars since 2002. The system makes it easier to secure rear- and front-facing child safety seats in a car, without using the car’s seat belt. It comes with built-in tether attachments and bottom anchors which fasten into LATCH-compatible safety seats.

Traction control

As the name suggests, traction control regulates the traction between a car’s tires and the road by limiting wheel spin. Traction control has been mandatory in every passenger car since 2012. The system uses sensors to monitor the spin of a car’s tires. When it detects that a tire is spinning too fast, a traction control light will turn on and the system will engage the brakes to slow the car down. This safety feature is crucial when driving in wet, icy or otherwise slippery conditions and can prevent a car from spinning out or skidding off the road.

Advanced safety features

These days, most new cars come with more advanced safety features due to modern engineering. But, keep in mind that these features differ by make and model. (The features are listed alphabetically.)

Adaptive cruise control (ACC)

Adaptive cruise control helps maintain a driver’s speed and keeps an appropriate distance between cars. Like standard cruise control, once a driver engages ACC, the system will maintain the preset speed. But unlike the former, ACC also monitors the traffic conditions around a car and adjusts the car’s speed based on those conditions. For example, if a car slows down in front of you, the system will engage the brakes and slow your vehicle until it's safe to return to the predetermined speed.

Automatic emergency braking (AEB)

Automatic emergency braking engages the brakes to slow a vehicle or bring it to a stop when it detects the vehicle might collide with something ahead. AEB uses cameras, lasers and radar to identify objects in its path and is often paired with forward-collision warning technology (more on this below). Although AEB isn’t federally mandated yet, the U.S. Department of Transportation has proposed a rule that would require all passenger cars and some trucks to have AEB systems.

Blind-spot monitoring (BSM)

Blind-spot monitoring systems typically use cameras or radar and ultrasonic senses on the rear bumper of a vehicle to help drivers change lanes more safely. It does this by alerting drivers — usually with an audible warning or visual indicator — when there’s a vehicle in a car’s blind spot when a driver is attempting to change lanes. This feature is usually triggered when the driver turns on the vehicle’s blinker/turning signal.

Forward-collision warning (FCW)

While not federally mandated, automakers install forward-collision warning features in many new models as standard technology. The system notifies drivers, typically with a visual or audible alert, when there’s an object, person or another vehicle in front of a car and a driver should brake. FCW is usually paired with AEB, although they are two separate systems — one warns drivers and the other applies the brakes. Note that some FCW-only systems don't have AEB to assist with braking.

Lane-centering assistance (LCA)

Lane-centering assistance is the most advanced lane assistance system. It uses cameras and lane markings to keep a car centered on the road by automatically adjusting the steering wheel. LCA uses lane-keeping assistance (more on this below) and adaptive cruise control technology for hands-free driving: they all work together to center the car and maintain a safe distance between the driver’s car and the car in front, without the driver’s hands on the wheel.

Lane-departure warning (LDW)

Lane departure warning signals to a driver (audibly, visually, tacitly or with a combination of all three) when the car is too close to the center or side lane markers. It does this by using cameras and lasers to monitor lane markers on the road. Note that LDW doesn't engage any part of a car to prevent it from entering another lane — it only warns drivers.

Lane-keeping assistance (LKA)

Lane-keeping assistance is a more advanced version of lane-departure warning and prevents drivers from straying outside their lane. Unlike LDW, it physically steers the car back into its lane by applying force to the steering wheel or pressure to the brakes. Some cars combine LDW and LKA technology to alert and assist drivers.