A passenger’s guide to staying safe on the road. How to take responsibility for your own safety.
- Vehicle safety systems
- The importance of your seat belt
- Front seat passengers
- Rear seat passengers
- Children in cars
- Air bags
- Safe stowage of luggage
- Frequently asked questions
Advances in technology have meant that cars are safer than ever these days. Braking, steering and active safety systems have been developed not only to reduce the chances of being involved in a collision, but also to lessen the severity of any impact. Of course, cars still crash, but we as occupants are much better protected than we were in the past.
Vehicle safety systems
The technology at work in a modern car is the result of millions of pounds of research and development carried out by scientists and designers. They have studied many different types of collision (front impact, rear-end shunt, side impact etc) on all sorts of road surfaces and in different weather conditions. As a result, a huge number of safety systems can now be found at work on cars. These systems may include: anti-lock braking to prevent or reduce the severity of collision; infrared night vision to increase a driver’s vision beyond the car’s headlamp range; reverse sensors to alert drivers to objects in their path when reversing; adaptive cruise control to maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front and Electronic Stability Control, which intervenes to prevent an imminent loss of control. Most safety systems work in parallel with the driver – so the main requirement for a safe journey is concentration, observation and anticipation.
When you’re travelling in a car, the chances are that you will be unaware of any of these systems at work.
The importance of your seat belt
The most effective way of protecting you when you are traveling in a vehicle is your seat belt. Therefore, it is not only a legal requirement, but also a very sensible piece of advice, to make sure that you – and every occupant – always wear a seat belt on every journey, no matter how short it may be. It is just as important that you wear a seat belt when traveling in a rear seat as in a front seat.
Front seat passengers
Your seat belt is your number one safety aid, but it is likely to be backed up by one or more airbags. If you are properly secured by your seat belt, then the airbag will cushion you from injury during a collision. However, you are not adequately secured by your seat belt, the force of the impact caused by the airbag inflating can in some circumstances do more damage than the collision itself.
Rear seat passengers
Wearing a seat belt in the back became compulsory for children in 1989, and for adults in 1991. If a car is involved in a collision at 30 mph, then an unrestrained passenger can be thrown forward with a force equivalent to 30 or more times their body weight. Research (using figures from 2002) has shown that between eight and 15 front seat passengers in cars are killed each year by rear seat passengers who weren’t using seat belts. It’s easy to see how the most severe injuries for driver and front seat passenger can be caused by a rear seat passenger who was not wearing a seat belt.
Children in cars
The law requires all children travelling in cars to use the correct child restraint until they reach either the age of 12 or a height of 135 cm. After this, they must use an adult seat belt. It is the responsibility of the driver to ensure that children under the age of 14 years comply with the law in terms of correct restraints.
If the car you are travelling in is involved in a crash, then it is likely to hit a sensor. Different sensors in different parts of the car will cause the deployment of the appropriate airbag. This sends a message to the airbag. Basically, a small explosion is triggered and hot air is forced into the airbag. This all happens in the smallest fractions of a second.
Safe stowage of luggage
Bags, cases, bottles, books, packages… all the usual paraphernalia associated with a car journey. Always try to ensure that any luggage is stowed safely and securely. This is because of the possible damage even a small item can cause in any collision. Everything loose then has the potential to become a missile. Research shows that even something small such as a mobile phone can deal a blow to the back of the head equivalent to the weight of two bricks.
Frequently asked questions
Why can airbags cause burns and scratching?
The sensor activating the airbag triggers a explosion and forces hot air into the airbag. This is why, when an airbag is deployed, it is hot and can causes burns and scratches. The airbag material itself needs to be very strong, and sometimes it is possible to sustain abrasions from the material coming into contact with skin.
If I have airbag protection, then surely a seatbelt becomes redundant?
No. Definitely not. Imagine you are a front seat passenger not wearing a seat belt. The car crashes and the airbag is deployed. Because it is then not working in parallel with the seat belt, it will have the effect of pushing you upwards. Remember, you’re still moving forward, even though the vehicle has crashed and stopped moving. So you’re pushed upwards as you continue forwards. The most likely result is your head coming into contact with the windscreen. If your speed is high enough, you will continue through the windscreen.
How can I politely ask a driver to slow down if I feel unsafe in a car?
This can be tricky. If you feel the driver is going too fast, then you might want to say something along the lines of: “I’m sorry but I’m not a good passenger. Could I ask you just to slow down a bit?” This hopefully has the effect of reducing tension, with no offence taken by the driver. You could also claim to be feeling unwell. Few drivers are prepared to run the risk of having their car interior spoilt!