Look for safety design features incorporated into the body of a vehicle that can provide greater protection to you and your passengers if you crash. Check for these features when buying your next car.
Safety features in vehicle bonnets can reduce the potential for injury to pedestrians. Providing the maximum gap possible between the underside of the bonnet and the top of the engine prevents the engine from striking a pedestrian's head in a crash.
'Deployable bonnets' sense an impact with a pedestrian and raise the bonnet to increase the gap between the bonnet and the engine.
Car doors with foam bolsters crush and absorb the impact of a crash.
Door intrusion beams added as a cross brace below the window provide further protection, though more so in single car crashes (eg with a tree or pole), than in crashes with other vehicles.
In frontal, rear and offset (those occurring at an angle) crashes, modern vehicles protect occupants by absorbing crash energy and reducing the forces you're exposed to. This is because the front and rear sections crumple in a controlled and progressive manner, allowing the occupant compartment to decelerate more slowly. The deceleration means less force passes on to you and injury is less likely.
The occupant compartment is a robust safety cage that spreads the forces of a crash and provides you with as much 'survival space' as possible.
The safety cage should include:
strong pillars to stop the roof from collapsing in rollover crashes
barriers to prevent the wheels, bonnet or engine intruding into the occupant compartment.
Door locks and hinges should also remain intact so that you're not thrown from the vehicle.
Frontal impact features can reduce a potentially fatal crash to one of serious injury. These features include:
advanced safety belts
crumple zones at the front of the vehicle
New Zealand law requires that passenger vehicles with up to nine seats must be manufactured to meet an approved frontal impact standard. These standards ensure the front crumple zone, safety cage and other occupant protection features work together to provide at least a specified level of driver and passenger protection in a frontal crash.
class MA vehicles - you must prove it was manufactured to meet a frontal impact standard. The exceptions are vehicles over 20 years old, 'special interest vehicles' or where you qualify for an immigrant's exemption
For more detail see Vehicle classes and standards.
Frontal impact protection systems cannot be added to a vehicle. If a vehicle wasn't designed, manufactured and certified as meeting an approved frontal impact standard, there's nothing you can do to change this.
Check RIghtcar (external link) to compare the relative safety of a range of new car makes and models.