Are Older Cars Safer Than Newer Cars?

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

It is well known that corporate cost-cutting strategies have lowered the quality of many products and services over the years, but have concepts such as “obsoletion-by-design” (aka, “Planned obsolescence“), “shrinkflation” and “the substitution effect” had any impact on the safety of modern cars? Is it possible that modern vehicles are actually less safe than cars from the 70s, 80s, 90s, or early 2000s due to corporate cost-cutting?

In this article, we will analyze the safety features and crash test data to determine if modern cars are more or less safe than cars made in the past. 

General Information on Car Ownership in the US and California

It’s no secret that both California and the entire United States are highly dependent on cars. In 2020, the California Department of Motor Vehicles reported over 35.8 million registered vehicles in the state. Los Angeles County had the highest number of registrations, accounting for about 7.9 million or 22% of the state’s total. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) found that the average age of vehicles on the road in 2020 was 11.9 years, compared to 8.4 years in 1995.

Comparing New and Old Car Accident Statistics

As the average age of vehicles on the road increases, so does the number of severe accidents. A 2021 citywide report by the Los Angeles Police Department revealed that crashes involving injuries rose by 14% between 2019 and 2021, while auto accident fatalities increased by around 20%. This may appear to be a simple correlation, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that from 1997 to 2017, the occupancy fatality rate in the US dropped by nearly 44%. The NHTSA attributed this decline to new safety features in vehicles, noting that the average car in 2012 had a 56% lower fatality risk than vehicles from the 1950s.

A 2013 NHTSA study examined 251,826 drivers involved in accidents between 2005 and 2011—47% of them died, while 53% survived. Vehicles aged 0-3 years had the lowest fatality rate (around 35%), while those aged 18+ years had the highest (59-60%). Thus, contrary to popular belief, older cars are not safer than newer ones. In fact, they pose a greater danger due to the absence of modern safety features, putting drivers at higher risk of severe injury or death in an accident.

Features That Make New Cars Safer

New cars are safer primarily because of the advanced safety technology developed by manufacturers. Although these systems are not perfect, they significantly decrease the risk of death in an accident. Many older vehicles lack these features, which poses a considerable danger to drivers and passengers.

Seat Belts

The three-point seat belt system is among the earliest and most effective safety innovations in vehicles. This restraint prevents occupants from being ejected during severe impacts, saving countless lives over the past decades. Only 26% of restrained drivers in new cars die in a serious collision, compared to 72% of unrestrained drivers.

Air Bags

Airbags, which have been evolving since their introduction nearly 70 years ago, help prevent occupants from hitting hard car components like the dashboard or steering wheel. While older models usually have only front airbags, new cars also have side airbags, enhancing safety during collisions.

Backup Cameras

Backup cameras are a relatively recent addition to vehicles, aiming to help drivers reverse safely without hitting pedestrians or other vehicles. Although not standard in most cars during the NHTSA’s studies on vehicle age, backup cameras are now required in all new vehicles manufactured after 2018.

Stability Control

Older vehicles often spin out, especially under challenging road conditions. To prevent this, many newer cars are equipped with electronic stability control. This system uses the car’s computer to apply brakes automatically, helping the driver to maintain control of the vehicle in the event of a spin-out.

Keep in Mind That Accidents Can Occur Regardless of Your Vehicle’s Age

While discussing the safety of older cars compared to newer ones, it’s important to remember that accidents can occur unexpectedly. The type of vehicle you drive is just one of many factors influencing the severity of a crash.

If you suffer an injury in an accident caused by a negligent driver, don’t hesitate to contact J&Y Law. From the very beginning, we passionately advocate for the compensation you require for your recovery. Unlike some law firms that may delegate your case to legal assistants, we personally work with clients at every stage of the process. We value clear communication and a strong reputation, keeping our clients well-informed and unafraid to go to trial when necessary.

We are proud to serve clients across California who have been impacted by vehicle accidents. To arrange a complimentary consultation, please reach out to us by filling out our contact form or calling 877-718-9845. 

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.