• Image Credit: Getty Images
My fiscally conservative husband, who I’m convinced still has his Confirmation money, is forever talking about wants versus  needs. So when it came time to get a new car, I got a used one and opted against what I perceived as unnecessary extras.

Boy, was that a mistake. Having grown used to rear cameras in review vehicles, I backed my camera-less 2011 Mazda CX-9 into a tree on vacation, shattering the rear window and denting the liftgate. Blind-spot detection would sure have come in handy too – and I could have gotten it on a newer version or some competing models. I wasn’t in my car, but I clipped the side mirror on a compact car while changing lanes in a pick-up truck that didn’t have those little side-mirror indicators.

Maybe it doesn’t seem so bad when you don’t know what you’re missing, but trust me, you’re missing a lot when you scrimp on safety.

Here’s a look at some of the latest safety features and whether they are must-haves, nice-to-haves or “don’t-have-to-haves” for your next new or used car. (All cars since the ’98 model year are required to have driver and passenger air bags, so we’re assuming your potential purchase will include them. It should!)
Must have: Stability control
  • Image Credit: AOL

Must have: Stability control

Required on all new cars since the 2012 model year, this technology uses braking and engine power to bring vehicles under control in a skid. It’s believed to have the most life-saving potential since the seat belt. Don’t leave the used car dealership without it if you can afford it.
Must have: Side airbags
  • Image Credit: Alamy

Must have: Side airbags

It’s hard to find a new car without side airbags and/or inflatable side curtains to protect the head in crashes. They aren’t required, but are used by nearly all automakers to meet increasingly stringent federal side crash protection rules. Consider this: Without side airbags or curtains, it’s just the width of the door between you and a car that t-bones you.
Nice to have: Back-up camera
  • Image Credit: Getty Images

Nice to have: Back-up camera

These really come in handy for me, especially when I’m backing out of an underground garage spot that’s surrounded by pillars. But this is about far more than property damage. About 292 people – mostly kids and the elderly - are killed each year by a vehicle that’s driving in reverse, usually out of a driveway. 
Nice to have: Forward collision warning/prevention
  • Image Credit: Volvo

Nice to have: Forward collision warning/prevention

Even the best drivers look away at the wrong times. These features, which warn and even brake when sensors detect a crash is imminent, have been proven to measurably reduce crashes, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. 
Nice to have: Blind-spot detection
  • Image Credit: Volvo

Nice to have: Blind-spot detection

They don’t call them blind spots for nothing. These indicators on the side-view mirrors can prevent lane-changing crashes, especially for those of us who start to turn before we’re certain the coast is clear. 
Nice to have: Lane-departure warning
  • Image Credit: Volvo

Nice to have: Lane-departure warning

Lane departure warning systems alert you when you start to drift over into another lane. It may seem like a bit much, but it's amazing how easy it is to lose spatial awareness when you're tired or distracted. Sure, they get annoying, but they’re also getting better. Plus, you can turn them off if you’ve really got it under control. 
Nice to have: Adaptive headlights
  • Image Credit: AOL

Nice to have: Adaptive headlights

Adaptive headlights rotate to point their beams in the direction the car is turning. When headlights are aimed at where the vehicle is heading, IIHS found it reduces crashes. In fact, IIHS believes it’s one of the most promising advanced technologies.
Don't have to have: Tire pressure monitoring system
  • Image Credit: Nissan

Don't have to have: Tire pressure monitoring system

I've been unduly alarmed and thankfully warned about tire problems thanks to this feature. I’m particularly fond of TPMS' that tell me which tire is low and how low it is so I know whether it’s a "take the next exit" sort of situation. Simply checking your tires regularly works well, too, though.
Don't have to have: Advanced airbags
  • Image Credit: Volvo

Don't have to have: Advanced airbags

It’s great that airbags now have sensors that can tell who’s in the seat and adjust the deployment force accordingly, or turn it off all together. It’s also simply safer to have children sit in the back seat until they are teenagers. If a child or small adult is sitting in the passenger seat, make sure the seat is all the way back.
Don't have to have: Knee airbags
  • Image Credit: Volvo

Don't have to have: Knee airbags

When it comes to protecting vital parts of the body, legs don’t need to be a priority. As a children’s hospital surgeon once told me, “We can fix everything, but the head.”


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