Looking for a new family car? Make sure it has these key safety features, an expert says

couple signing contract with car dealer buying safe family car
Oleksii Syrotkin/Stocksy

When you’re shopping for your next family car, it’s vital to keep safety top of mind, because car accidents are more common than you might think: Around 6 million car accidents happen each year. As a mother, this concerns me; but as Manager of Vehicle Safety at Mazda, it drives me to work harder with my team to ensure that we keep you and your family safe. Even if you’re a cautious driver, you and your loved ones can still find yourselves involved in an accident for a variety of reasons. That’s why it’s important to be behind the wheel of a car that is well-equipped with both crash avoidance and occupant protection technologies. Before you buy your next car, here’s what to look for when it comes to key safety features—whether you’re shopping new or used.

Car shopping? Here’s what to look for to keep your family safe

Crash avoidance

Of course, avoiding crashes altogether is the best way to protect your family. There are technologies available on both new and used vehicles that can help you do just that. Often referred to as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), these suites of radars, cameras, and other sensors enable driver warnings and vehicle interventions, in an attempt to avoid a collision.

After all, we are human. It doesn’t take much to become distracted on the road. We can all easily miss cars in our blind spots, misjudge the timing of oncoming traffic, or fail to respond quickly to unexpected road obstacles. That’s why more and more vehicles on the market today are equipped with ADAS that have the potential to prevent 62% of traffic deaths each year.

Here are the key safety features I recommend you keep on your checklist—and the ones we prioritize at Mazda. Worth noting: The family-oriented CX-90 now comes standard with the following advanced safety features—and more.

Forward Collision Warning and Automatic Emergency Braking

Between glancing at kiddos in the backseat and keeping your eye on the road, anything can happen. In those moments, even a cautious driver’s reaction time is severely limited. When the distance between your car and an obstacle in front of you, such as another vehicle or a pedestrian closes rapidly, forward collision warning can deploy alerts to brake. Automatic emergency braking takes it a step further, intervening to slow down your vehicle in an attempt to mitigate a collision in case you can’t. For example, many new vehicle models, including those from Mazda, now come equipped with a Smart Brake Support system.

Blind Spot Monitoring

Blind spots have always been a hazard, whether you’re driving a large SUV or a smaller sedan. But with this feature, you don’t have to worry about the limited vision you get from your side-view mirrors. Blind spot monitoring provides customizable audible and visual alerts when a vehicle enters this low visibility area for more confident and safe lane changes.

Rear Cross Traffic Alert

I’ve learned that backing out of a parking space in a big minivan or family SUV can be tricky, even with a rearview camera. With cars, people, and shopping carts passing by all at once, it’s a matter of timing and attentiveness. Rear cross traffic alert helps drivers detect approaching obstacles through visual and audio alerts, so that you can reverse with confidence.

Lane Departure Warning and Lane Keep Assist

When long road trips leave you feeling drowsy or distractions are delivered from the backseat, losing focus can quickly translate to your vehicle swerving into another lane. Lane departure warning uses a forward facing camera to identify road lines and dispatch alerts when crossing a lane edge without signaling. A potential life-saving wake-up call that can be further reinforced by lane keep assist, which provides momentary steering assistance to help get your vehicle back on course.

Occupant protection

The next key consideration is how well your vehicle would protect your family if a crash were to occur. This is the combination of seat belts, airbags and structural design stepping in to reduce forces and cushion your most precious cargo. Although there are federal requirements in this area, not all vehicles are created equal. To make sure your next family car has the highest level of crash protection on the market, check out IIHS’s top safety picks. The IIHS program has been around since 2006, setting an ever-rising bar, and now incorporating crash avoidance systems into its criteria. Each year sets a new standard, so be on the lookout for the most recent award year winners.

All tested Mazda vehicles earned the 2020, 2021 and 2022 IIHS TOP SAFETY PICK + awards, as well as the new, challenging 2023 IIHS TOP SAFETY PICK and TOP SAFETY PICK+ awards.

Seat belts are the most critical piece of occupant protection—but only if they are worn, and worn properly. Buckle up! Every trip. Every seat. For our littlest occupants, the right car seat is critical. Enter your child’s age, height, and weight into The National’s Highway Traffic Safety Administation’s Car Seat Finder Tool to see what the experts recommend.

When I was a first-time parent, it was also a priority for me to be able to get my son’s car seat safely and conveniently in and out of our vehicle. Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) help do just that with car seat ready connection points to securely and easily click in and go.

Safer technology, safer roads

As Manager for Vehicle Safety at Mazda, I approach road safety through the lens of a mother. When evaluating a car’s safety features, I think to myself, “Would I trust this vehicle to keep me, my loved ones, and those around me safe?” It’s always important to remember that everyone on the road also has a family to get home to.

Before you make your big purchase, I recommend smart car shoppers research ratings and feature availability by visiting safety-savvy resources from IIHS, Consumer Reports, and NHTSA to inform your car-buying process.