Safety First!

August 7th, 2007 by Mike Mayder

Read any auto review, and safety features will be given almost as much attention as engine specs. Either the array of safety systems is lauded, or the lack thereof is denigrated, and sometimes mocked. In either case, the message is clear: driving fast is cool, but getting there in one piece is cooler.

This, then, is a list of ten features or systems that protect us as we’re zooming from point a to point b, or beyond:

  1. AirbagsThey prevent you from crashing into the steering wheel (and impaling yourself on the steering column) and also prevent severe cranial injuries. The newest versions are set to “depower” themselves - reduce power after they’re activated - to keep them from causing injuries while preventing fatalaties.
  2. Computers Whether they’re the powerful type of computer that aid in the design and manufacture of our cars, or the mini-processors on board, without which many other safety features wouldn’t work, computers are a crucial component of safe driving.
  3. Deformable Structure We’re past the days, for the most part, when a survivable crash ended in fatality because the hood of the car ripped off and cut through the windshield, or any other such grisly results, and this is largely because deformable structure allows the car itself to absorb the energy of impact, and not pass it on to the driver.
  4. Disc Brakes Not only do they allow cars to make 60 - 0mph stops, something old-school drum brakes couldn’t always do more than a couple times in a row without over heating, disc brakes also allow us to have anti-lock braking systems, and are a vital component of stability and traction control.
  5. Divided Highways Driving is simply safer with divided highways, and statistics support this - comparisons based on total numbers of traveled miles show that there are 70% fewer fatalities on divided roads than on old two-lane bidirectional ones.
  6. DUI Laws While drunk or (otherwise chemically) altered drivers still account for about a third of fatal driving accidents, that’s down from a 50% statistic from 1982. Across the country, DUI laws have been getting tougher - but critics think they’re still not strict enough.
  7. Quick Emergency Response Skilled rescue workers arriving on-scene quickly may not be something drivers can control, but because of EMTs and fast-response teams, less than one percent of the 6 million or so traffic accidents that occur annually end in death.
  8. Stability Control Electronic Stability Control, whether it’s known by a set of initials (ESC, DSC, etc.) or a fancy name (”Stabilitrak”) is what helps keep all four tires touching the pavement. It’s controlled by computers, not drivers, so it can’t make panic and make a wrong decision, which is always a plus.
  9. Seatbelts When I was a kid, my mother had a rule that the car didn’t move until everyone was buckled in. Thankfully, I’m an only child, so this didn’t take long. The point however is that all the cool technology in the world cannot keep you alive if you’re flying through the windshield. Buckle up!
  10. Tires Good quality, well-maintained, pneumatic steel-belted radial tires may well be the most important safety feature there is. Why? Because at any given moment it’s a patch of rubber about the size of an adult hand that is actually in contact with the road. Without tires, disc brakes are useless, and stability control non-existent. Also, keeping the pressure correct helps maximize fuel economy.
  11. Your Turn: My list comes from a week of research, and years of riding in, driving, and owning cars. What would you add to this list? What would you remove?


One Response to “Safety First!”

  1. Bob Plumer Says:

    It’s a very good list. Tough to find something you overlooked. I think improvements in kids safety seats themselves and laws that mandate children be buckled. I know as a kid seat belts were only an option and baby/kids seats rarely used (if they were even around). Personally think DUI laws need to be tougher if not at least fully enforce the ones that are the books already.

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