Doctor Diesel

Stayin’ Alive! (Bee Gees 1977)

portrait of yellow crash test dummyI shall shortly be shopping for a new car (maybe I should have said ìweî), and it will need to be something pretty functional, like an estate car or an SUV that will cater for a growing family of two very young kids (no more planned!) and a small dog that usually comes with us on most longer trips, along with a load of buggies and general clutter and baggage. I’m not really looking for ideas of specific models, but comments on which of the manufacturers make the best use of the latest safety kit, the latest technology, what you feel are the ìmust haveî items, and which of the new technology you scorn, or view as poor value for money. Hope you can help with some advice.

Adrian, Newbury

Nice brief Adrian! Why do you think a cynical old joker like me can offer you relevant advice? You probably know by now that anything to do with mobile communications, on-board music, any other entertainment, and all things that distract or confuse the driver will get the thumbs down from me! But safety equipment is another matter, and really should be a big consideration for family motorists.

If you’re carrying youngsters, then car seats are a big subject. Read up on the latest regulations, particularly those relating to backless booster seats, which are soon to be outlawed for smaller and younger kids, and go to a proper child seat supplier like Halfords or Mothercare to get professional advice. Go online and check out car safety ratings, and avoid being tempted by cars with any suggestion of having poor vision to front, side and rear.

The best in-built safety technology for car occupants comes with the latest collision avoidance and obstacle avoidance systems using laser, optical, and radar technology. Forward collision warning, mitigation and avoidance systems, particularly those using automatic braking, are some of the most valuable when you have vulnerable young children on board. For me, this sort of technology comes way ahead of having a pretty (pretty distracting?) large colour touchscreen on your dashboard, or the ability to connect your iPad or Android tablet.

You didn’t ask me for any model names, but I have no hesitation in mentioning the Honda Jazz as the “safest car on a modest budget” that was an honourable runner-up to an almost inevitable, but vastly more expensive Volvo, the new XC90, in  the Thatcham 2016 Safety Awards. We often write about “value for money” in car buying but, if safety is a priority, then the latest models are vastly safer than most five-year-old cars, and I would urge you to buy a car with the most up-to-date safety technology that you can afford. The website is the place to browse for the latest 2016 car safety ratings, and you could use that to form a shortlist of suitable cars, or check the results and ratings for cars that take your fancy.

I get somewhat annoyed when newspapers treat motoring as a “fun” subject, with infinite road tests of unbelievably fast and hugely expensive new models, week after week reports on fast cars, and unbelievably powerful and dangerous motorcycles. For most of us, motoring is a primarily a method of essential travel, where safe driving and self-protection on busy roads should be a priority. We shed enough tears for people who have given their lives away when having “fun” on public roads.

When you have a family it’s time to act responsibly, and it’s no fun at all for any lady to have to bring up a child without a father. Make safety your priority when you buy your car Adrian, and think about taking some Institute of Advanced Motorists ( training with your local group. Staying safe is all about learning their “skills for life” (the IAM motto) for careful, defensive, but still enjoyable driving. It will stand you in good stead throughout a life on wheels!

The Doc

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