In January 2016 the Department of Transportation announced two initiatives: One is the government’s proposed infusion of almost $4 billion into the development of autonomous cars over the next decade; the second is a collaboration between automakers and the government to improve safety and communication regarding recalls.

Though the declarations are proactive, they may not go far enough. Consumer Reports is advocating for safety improvements that we believe could be implemented sooner rather than later, especially if regulators and automakers can work together and come to an agreement on effective standards. (Learn more about car safety.)

Below is our list of priorities for car safety:

Forward-Collision Warning With Automatic Emergency Braking

Features such as forward-collision warning (FCW) with automatic emergency braking (AEB) can reduce bodily injury insurance claims by up to 30 percent. The severity of an accident can be greatly reduced if a car is equipped with those features.

CR’s take: Consumer Reports urges all manufacturers to include those features as standard equipment. In parallel, the government can pursue regulations to require the features.

A seat-belt reminder for all is an important car safety improvement

Seat-Belt Reminders for All

When cars have advanced seat-belt reminders—meaning the alerts that prompt seat-belt use get louder or more frequent—research has shown that occupants will wear their seat belt. But those audible alerts are currently installed in very few backseats, neglecting the high number of backseat passengers who are less likely to wear a seat belt in the first place.

CR’s take: Except for children who are required to be in safety seats, backseat passengers are often left behind in terms of safety developments. Installing seat-belt reminders for every seat in every car is an effort that Consumer Reports believes would benefit the safety of all occupants, including post-booster-seat children and adolescents. The alerts were to be made mandatory, but governing bodies have failed to greenlight industry-wide compliance.

Consistent Seat-Belt Laws

In 1967 the first federally mandated seat-belt law required all motor vehicles to have seat belts installed as original equipment. But as of this writing, there are still 16 states in which police cannot stop and fine those who choose to not wear a belt as a primary offense. New Hampshire doesn’t have an adult seat-belt law.

CR’s take: Universal seat-belt use can reduce traffic deaths by as many as 2,800 people per year. Proper use of a lap and shoulder belt by front-seat occupants can reduce the risk of fatal injury in light trucks by 60 percent, and by 45 percent in cars. It’s time that all states have consistent, stringent seat-belt requirements for adult drivers and passengers.

Automatic Headlights When Wipers Are On

Many cars now have daytime running lights. But when weather is inclement, turning on the headlights significantly improves the ability of other drivers to see a car and reduces the chance of an accident. Only 19 states currently have laws that require drivers to turn on their headlights when the windshield wipers are in use.

CR’s take: Automakers could decrease visibility dangers for all motorists by installing headlights that automatically turn on when the windshield wipers are activated. It is an inexpensive and potentially lifesaving investment.

Rear-Seat Safety

Front-seat passengers are at an advantage in terms of protective safety technologies, assuming everyone is belted in. Data show that belted backseat passengers—with the exception of young children who have the protection of child restraints—may fare poorly in crashes compared with those in the front seat.

CR’s take: More attention needs to be paid to increasing safety in the backseat, especially because it affects those who sit there most often: children and adolescents. Technologies such as seat-belt pretensioners—which tighten the belt in anticipation of impact—and additional frontal and side airbag protection are key. Consumer Reports believes that rear-seat passengers require protection with the same vigilance as front-seat passengers.

Alcohol-Detection Systems

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind has said the agency is working toward finalizing technology for alcohol-detection systems in cars and commercial vehicles. The system would be able to detect alcohol either on the breath of a driver or through a laser scan of the driver’s finger.

CR’s take: Alcohol-fueled crashes kill almost 10,000 people per year, according to NHTSA. And more than 1 million arrests were made in 2012 for driving while impaired by alcohol or narcotics, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Using technology to keep a drunk driver from taking the wheel is a smart next step for road safety.

Headlight Testing

Properly functioning headlights are a vital part of car safety. On the "Consumer 101" TV show, Consumer Reports’ expert Jen Stockberger explains how CR puts them to the test.  

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the April 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.