Get the most from your car’s safety technology

Posted on September 16th, 2015 by James Luckhurst

Car safety systems

The sophisticated systems in use on cars today are designed not only to protect us and reduce the consequences and severity of a collision, but also to do what they can to keep us out of trouble in the first place. There are systems that will brake for us, sensors that can stop us getting too close to another vehicle, technology that detects fatigue… and mechanisms that can reduce impact severity if a collision becomes inevitable.

Of course, different vehicles have different systems – and different levels of protection. There are a wide array of acronyms and abbreviations relating to specific systems, but the general principle is that this technology is there to improve vehicle stability, to assist in steering, braking or maintain grip –and to stop us from crashing.

If circumstances go beyond this – in other words a crash is unavoidable – then other systems come into play that will help reduce the severity of injuries as a result of an impact.

Any safety system on a car, however sophisticated it might be, will only be fully effective if the basics are in good condition, so we need to make regular checks – particularly of tyre pressure and tread depth – simply because it’s the tyres that have to do the physical work – especially if we suddenly have to brake hard.

Under-inflated tyres will wear down more quickly along the walls – and if they fail suddenly, the chances are we will lose control of the car in a critical situation. Worn or ‘bald’ tyres are so called because the tyre tread – which helps us to control the car in wet conditions – has been worn down to an unacceptably low level. Inadequate tyre pressure or tread means the safety systems on our vehicle will not work as efficiently. That’s why regular checks on tyre inflation and tread depth are so important.

In the event of a crash, a properly worn seatbelt will keep the driver and passengers in their seats inside the vehicle – and will reduce the risk of the driver hitting the steering wheel, the windscreen or the dashboard. So wear it good and snug. The lap belt should go over the hip bones, not the stomach. The diagonal strap should come across shoulder – not around the neck.

Seatbelts and airbags work together; it’s never a question of one or the other. In fact, an airbag deploying can do a lot more harm to a vehicle occupant who isn’t strapped in. So remember: seatbelts and airbags combine to provide a barrier that can reduce the severity of injuries.

Another valuable system is Anti-lock brakes – generally known as ABS. This can prevent a vehicle’s wheels locking up under heavy braking to stop the car skidding. ABS ensures that a vehicle’s wheels don’t lock by rapidly releasing and then re-applying the brakes. The driver can then maintain steering control even during maximum braking.

Finally, ESP is an advanced traction control system which works to achieve the very best levels of grip. By monitoring each wheel, the system can reduce power or apply the brakes to ensure the car stays on course – even if the wheels have lost grip.

So that’s a summary of the technology available. Here are three key points for making best use of it:

  1. Get to know the safety systems on a vehicle. Be sure you’re aware of what any visual or audio warning might mean – before you hear it for real.
  2. Always use a seatbelt that’s properly fitted and covers the hard parts of your shoulder and pelvis. If the seatbelt is fitted properly, then the additional safety systems will be able to do their job effectively.
  3. Do check tyres regularly for pressure and tread depth, because every bit of safety technology relies on them to do their job as effectively as possible when there’s an extreme situation.

And remember that the best safety system in the world can’t create space where there is none. So it’s vital always to have space to stop if there’s an emergency, or to steer clear of a hazard.