Safety belts are still your first defense in a crash. If you dislike motorized or door-mounted belts so much that you're tempted to disconnect them, buy a car with belts you will use. A major improvement: adjustable shoulder-belt anchors that allow both tall and short drivers to raise or lower the belt above their left shoulders for a snug, more comfortable fit. They'll appear on the new Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Olds 88, and others.
Airbags are so effective in head-on crashes--though less so in side collisions or rollovers--that carmakers are offering them in lots of new models. Honda provides a standard driver's airbag in the $10,555 Civic but, surprisingly, not in the Acura Integra, which is expected to cost about $2,000 more when its price is set. The $14,980 Ford Taurus is the least expensive car with an optional passenger-side airbag ($488).
Studies show that while the average driver will go 11 years before needing an airbag, antilock brakes, which let you steer while braking hard on snowy or rain-slicked roads, are needed once a year. Luxury makes, such as Lincoln Mercury and Mercedes-Benz, have offered them at no extra charge for years. But General Motors is leading the drive to make them standard on models under $10,000 like the Chevy Beretta and Cavalier. Otherwise, they're a $400 to $900 option. Safety tip: After buying the car, take it to a parking lot on a rainy day to get used to the unfamiliar pulsating of the brake pedal.