/ Motoring

Are cars really getting safer and more reliable?

First-ever Euro NCAP crash safety test

Cars that can detect cyclists, a proposed longer gap before the first MOT; many would have us believe that car safety and reliability is better than ever. But what do you think?

Twenty years ago, the car safety test organisation, Euro NCAP, ran its first set of unsuspecting family cars into a crash barrier at 40mph. Then, it side-smashed a set of identical cars at 30mph.

The results weren’t pretty.

Once the twisted bits of metal and shattered glass had come to a rest, a few conclusions were made – namely the ‘best’ cars tested wouldn’t prevent potentially serious injuries, while the worst would likely see you driving on to that great big garage in the sky.

This was the first comparable and realistic set of car safety tests carried out and published by independent experts in Europe.

(Oh, and did I mention Which? was a founding member?).

Car safety in 2017

Fast-forward to today and cars now come with assurances and long lists of safety equipment.

Compared to 1997, driver and passenger airbags, side protection airbags, seat belt reminders and electronic stability control are all standard on all cars sold across Europe.

But then there’s the flashy, and largely optional, stuff.

Some cars will now warn you when someone is in your blind spot (blind spot assist), adaptive cruise control will automatically slow you down with traffic, and brake assist will apply the brakes harder and faster than you could manually.

Many new cars have a form of AEB (Autonomous Emergency Braking), which will detect if you’re a) about to crash into something and b) haven’t noticed it yet, so will hit the brakes for you in order to mitigate or prevent the crash from happening at all.

That last one is so good, it can lower your insurance. How much by depends on how sophisticated the system is.

Reliability on the rise?

It isn’t just safety either; reliability is seemingly on the rise, too.

In fact, it has been proposed that new cars could go four years without an MOT, rather than three years, as it is now.

Looking at the last Which? car reliability survey in 2016, we can see the most suffered faults with cars aged three years or less were issues with the sat-nav, entertainment system and lights.

All electrical problems and all annoying – but hardly anything that would see your car being in the garage for days on end.

Why aren’t we quoting the 2017 car survey? Because it’s still open!

If you haven’t done it yet, please do – it helps us identify the most and least reliable cars on the road, affects our test scores and you could win £2,500 just for taking part (T&Cs apply).

Do you feel safer in modern cars and are they more reliable? Or are all these safety features just turning us into lazy drivers? Are you happy with a bigger gap before the first MOT on new cars?


The MOT is a safety check to ensure that unseen (or ignored) problems don’t lead to accidents. Three years seems about right given the mechanical wear and tear over that time. It would be interesting to see a breakdown (forgive the pun) of the number of MOT failures for cars taking their first tests and even more interesting, to add to this, the work done on cars before they have their first test, in order to gain a pass. This would give us some basis to make a judgement. Maybe this has been done and the result is an extension to four years as a result -who knows?
Having been driving for x number of years, some of which required double-de clutching to shift gears, I instinctively rebel at all these new, so called safety measures, air bags, seat belts and crumple zones excluded. Part of driving around is to be alert to the things that are happening in the vicinity. I don’t need a radar to tell me I’m too close to the car ahead; I don’t need flashing lights to remind me to look in the mirror -and the bit at the end – to check the road is clear to pull out; I’m not too drunk or comatose to keep in a straight line on the motorway and I don’t want a steering wheel with a mind of its own or a noisy, nosey dashboard that mimics Blackpool illuminations when it thinks I’ve sinned. More controversially I also like to know which gear I’m in because I’ve put it there in the first place and I know when it needs changing. When I become too decrepit to notice all these things I shall sell the car.

Hugh Stringer says:
4 February 2017

I couldn’t agree more with VynorHill. These days a lot of drivers are throwing common sense out of the window and drive without regard to what is going on around them. I fully support the new legislation about the use of Mobile Phones whilst driving and would support a stiff driving ban on anyone caught a second time.


Perhaps we should also have a compulsory driving test for those of an age that can remember double-de clutching!!


With regard to Hugh’s point, I think immediate confiscation of the mobile phone would be a powerful penalty. It could be returned once the enforcement process was completed and all fines paid and sanctions complied with. Of course, the culprit could soon obtain another mobile phone [at further expense] but it would be inconvenient to lose access to everything stored on the one they were caught with at the wheel.

Alan Claridge says:
6 February 2017

Great comment, but I would like to see a mot time schedule similar to the servicing guidelines for your vehicle eg; 20 thousand miles or two years whichever comes first, after all some people will do in excess of 40 thousand miles in a year and others less than 10 thousand. Just a thought.


There would have to be a reliable way of informing the DVLA of the mileage record. At least with a periodic examination there can be no dispute as to when it is due. Your suggested two-year maximum interval would probably be satisfactory but owners would have to remember when the MOT becomes due if their mileage was lower than the threshold or make sure they have an MOT if they are eating up the miles more quickly. I could foresee a lot of arguments over what came first, the mileage or the time schedule. The periodic system has the benefit of certainty and is easily enforceable. I could also foresee the insurance industry getting the wind up if there was any looseness in the MOT schedule.


@johnward – Modern phones share information with other devices so that confiscation of a phone would not necessarily deny the owner access to the information on their phone. The information stored on my phone is also on the laptop and tablet without any effort on my part.


That is true. But not everyone shares their data across their devices – I for one don’t; I stay very compartmentalised. Relieving me of my phone would cause no inconvenience as there are very few numbers listed in the memory, although I must add that the only time I use it in the car is when I am in the passenger seat.

Rob North says:
10 March 2017

As a fellow starting-handle expert I can empathise with vynorhill, but…the big exception that comes to mind is the modern habit of sustained speed on motorways etc. irrespective of conditions.
Driving into bad visibilty on a motorway is terrifying – slowing down is like playing Russian Roulette, so perhaps radar may prevent these huge pile-ups that occur?

Rob North says:
10 March 2017

Regarding those who persist in using phones while driving:
All Traffic Police should immediately be issued with a MOBILE TELEPHONE MILL which would be used to reduce offenders phones into 4 millimetre GRANULES. The device would be manually operated via a large cranked handle and be similar to a kitchen mincer, only bigger. To facilitate it’s use at the roadside it would need to be firmly clamped to the roof of the offenders car through an open door using a powerful CAM and LEVER, the specially HOBBED FINISH of the HARDENED STEEL JAWS causing considerable damage to the roof lining inside and leaving a dent and damaged paint on the exterior. A DELIVERY CHUTE would direct the remains of the phone into the footwell of the car.
These relatively cheap devices would save a fortune in paperwork and the “badge of shame” they inflicted onto the vehicle would in time have more effect than paltry fines…


Do you have any figures for the number of MOT failures for cars tested for the first time, Adrian? I suspect that these would provide a good reason for maintaining the status quo but will keep an open mind for the time being.

I have little doubt that cars are safer these days but am concerned about the drivers. I regularly see drivers using mobiles.


Hi Wavechange – actually no I don’t have those figures, but they would make for interesting reading.

I can see figures for the reasons that cars fail MOTs, but not specifically the first one. It would be interesting to find out both the numbers and reasons they did not pass. It would also be worth finding out what people had fixed if they had a pre-MOT service, that would have failed the MOT – but that could be very hard to come by!

And yes, I totally agree about drivers using phones while behind the wheel. It’s horribly dangerous and irresponsible, and yet far too common. If these new rules come in and double the penalty, that would mean new qualified drivers (two years or less) would lose their licence on the first offence, which might make some difference, but it won’t make the problem go away.


The easier it is to drive a car with less concentration the more likely it is that people will find other things to occupy their hands and their minds.