- P​hoto by Martin Katler on Unsplash

Here’s Why Older Cars Were Safer

A​nd Made For Better Drivers

1y ago

Picture roughly 30 years ago: you’re in the market for a new car. You head down to the local dealership of your choice, have a perusal at your choice of vehicle and its list of options and extras. Chances are, you have a choice of many odds and ends that were popular back then - a funky cassette player, electric sunroof, electric mirrors perhaps, power windows, air conditioning - all things that are mostly standard on all modern cars now.

What you didn’t have were things like lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, traction control, or even a giant touchscreen in the middle of your dashboard with more computing power than the Sputnik 1.

Fast forward to modern cars, and in addition to the above mentioned items, you likely have a dozen airbags to turn your car into a giant bouncy castle with wheels, hundreds of sensors monitoring your heart rate and blood sugar level (probably), and a braking system which decides that the car in front is too close, and slams on the middle pedal for you.

Modern cars with all their gadgets and gizmos are great if you’re into that stuff, but it causes a number of glaring problems: they make for worse drivers.

Picture yourself at eighteen years old, and you’ve just bought your first car - a Honda Civic. It’s got a whopping 90HP, tyres the width of a bicycle, and electric windows as its only “luxury” feature. This car simply works. And chances are, it’ll probably live longer than you if you treat it right.

The car is so light that you will feel every bump and texture on the road. The tyres so thin that they will break traction very easily, but thats OK, because the engine power (or lack thereof) means you’ll barely be doing the legal limit anyway.

The lack of weight will mean doing 30 will feel like you’re doing 50, and it’ll be a hoot around the bends. Theres no ABS to save your butt if you get it wrong, so you’ll need to watch for those around you. Not that it matters, the brakes are more like frisbees anyway.

The windows are akin to a glasshouse, and a simple turn of the head will have you feel like a camera pivoting on its mount. Visibility is exceptional. There are virtually no blind spots.

Theres no giant infotainment system to rob your attention, and the dials only tell you exactly which information is relevant to the car.

W​hat does all this mean?

Simply put, many years later when you can afford a fancy wallet and a pair of keys to your own abode, chances are you can afford something much more modern, and better equipped too.

The nicer interior that plays all your tunes, festooned with the finest of leather feels like an upgrade that you’ve earned.

The engine is likely several times more powerful, and you have a sense of respect and reverence for such engineering.

The tyres are fatter and more modern, and the brakes can probably stop the plane you took to your last trip to Ibiza. Everything is bigger and better in every way imaginable, and you - the fleshy bit behind the wheel - is more equipped and better informed to handle such a piece of metal on wheels.

A​ modern Mercedes with all the kinds of funky technology you can lay your mitts on

A​ modern Mercedes with all the kinds of funky technology you can lay your mitts on

A​ deprived generation?

Perhaps I’m now sounding like an old geezer who bangs on about “back in my day”. And maybe I am. But I genuinely believe older cars made for safer drivers - and safer roads. Not withstanding the amount of safety gear at hand - it trained perhaps the most important thing that is a part of a car on the road, and that is the person controlling it all.

You can keep your fancy lane keeping assist and autopilot. Enjoy the act of driving, and you’ll become a better driver for it. And the road will be a safer place.

H​ow do you feel about older cars?

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Comments (42)

  • My newer car has one of the best features ever fitted a car.

    It has a little TV in the dash that shows you what song is playing on the radio.

    It also has one of the worst features ever fitted to a car.

    It has a little TV in the dash that shows you what song is playing on the radio which is what you are looking at when you run into that tree.

      1 year ago
  • I like old cars. More than modern ones. But claiming they were safer is for people that rant about visibility in new cars and how they are hard to park. No, they aren't. It's just the drivers being lousy at it.

    I don't like tablets, but old cars are for my happy hours and when I drive my family, I want every single piece of cushion available. Safety first.

      1 year ago
    • Well, the visibility is poorer for sure! But the point I was attempting to make is that the psychology of an older car forced the driver to be more alert. You had a respect for the activity as opposed to the machine doing most of the work for you.

        1 year ago
    • Modern cars are safer, and on average modern driving is safer. But if you look at the statistical curve you will see a leptokurtic shift in fatality rate. That is almost entirely attributable to mass differential between vehicles. If...

      Read more
        1 year ago
  • I appreciate the technology of the modern cars, BMW M, Merc AMG, Audi RS, but, the simplicity of an older waterless 911 remains up there. The whirring noise of the fan, the mechanical noise of the aircooled heads and cylinders , it just resonates with my earthly realm.

    Call me old...

      1 year ago
    • I agree completely. My mechanic was mentioning how incredibly reliable those air cooled engines were too.

        1 year ago
  • Agree. Analog vs digital. Thats why i will never get rid of them 86 e30. 89 lancia. The only driving aids are headlights. And you dont need a degree in astrophysics to change the oil.

      1 year ago
    • Those Lancias were awesome. Yes, the lights were like candles in jars, but quite easily remedied.

        1 year ago
  • I think older cars may well have been more rewarding to drive, and I think we’ve lost something as cars have become bigger and heavier...but modern cars definitely crash better.

    What I like is when car manufacturers manage to keep some of old feel with the advantages (not the disadvantages) of the new. e.g. ND MX5 and Gordon Murray’s new T.50.

      1 year ago
    • No doubt safety standards have come leaps and bounds. But when you expect the machine to do all the work for you, the laziness can become fatal in some aspects.

        1 year ago
    • When it comes to primary safety, modern cars may do too much so that they can be driven by the talentless, but the levels of secondary safety on a modern car (when you do actually crash) are nice to have.

      And would I always prefer to have ABS on a...

      Read more
        1 year ago