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How safe is your car?

How safe is your car?

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As safe as you may feel driving along in your vehicle, using a car is risky business. Luckily, modern car safety has been improving in leaps and bounds, including design features that limit the likelihood of injuries. As many car safety features are not obvious to the average driver,read on to discover some of the features that are helpfully built in to your car and could save your life.

In New Zealand, car safety is taken seriously. All vehicles have to pass a series of stringent safety tests before they can be sold to the public, and to this end, the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) provides consumers with independent information on car safety ratings in NZ, through its star rating system. Here's a rundown of safety features you might find in your car.

Vehicle Structure

For its relatively low weight, the modern car is one of the toughest structures ever devised. Passenger cars are made in such a way that during a crash at legal speeds, the passenger compartment remains relatively intact. Features such as collapsing steering columns, reinforcing bars in the doors and the engine and transmission sliding in under the car in the event of a head-on collision, largely eliminate the possibility of the passenger compartment being crushed during an accident.

Crumple Zones

As the name suggests, these are zones built into a car body that crumple during an accident. By crumpling certain parts of the structure, the energy of the crash is absorbed, minimising the impact on the passenger compartment, protecting the driver and passengers.

Safety belts

The main purpose of safety belts is not to avoid a fine! These belts are life-saving devices. If a car comes to a dead stop by colliding head-on with another vehicle, the driver and passengers will continue to move forward at the speed of the car, unless they are held in place by safety belts. Make sure the safety belts in your vehicle are in good condition and make sure you wear them every time you drive.

Airbags

Air bags are built into the steering wheel, dashboard, window sills and doors where they are inflated by gas cartridges in less than one tenth of a second, when triggered by crash sensors. Although the airbags can be turned off, this should never be done since they are meant to prevent drivers and passengers from hitting solid parts of the car at high velocities. Our delicate human heads cannot withstand an impact with a steel steering wheel at much above 10km/h; let alone at 100km/h. 

Child Restraints

Apart from the car seat itself, the mounting points of child restraints have to pass as stringent a set of tests as any other part of a new car. Substandard baby seats can turn into deadly missiles during a crash, knocking out the windshield and ending up a long way from the actual crash scene with the child sometimes still strapped into the seat. Modern cars receive a star rating for the effectiveness of child restraint mounting points, so bear this in mind when shopping for a new car.

Pre-crash systems

Various types of Pre-Crash Safety Systems constantly monitor the road and prepare the vehicle to reduce collision impact should a crash occur. One such system uses radar lto monitor the distance between the car and the vehicle in front, braking and accelerating to maintain a safe following distance.

One other system, developed by Subaru, and named EyeSight™, employs two small cameras mounted near the rear view mirror that are linked to all the operational functions of the vehicle. This system, which has received a 5-star ANCAP rating and has the potential to assume virtually complete control of a car, performs seven key functions:

  • Pre-Crash Braking – applies the brakes when a vehicle ahead is found to be slowing down or stops suddenly, should the driver fail to apply the brakes in time.
  • Pre-Crash Brake Assist – should  the system determine that a collision imminent  and the driver applies the brakes, the system automatically generates a  maximum 1G deceleration to limit  the impact or resulting damage.
  • Progressive Start Control – if a driver inadvertently applies full throttle close to an obstacle in front of the car, the system will inhibit the throttle opening, helping to minimise or potentially avoid impact. The system also helps to reduce an impacts when ‘Drive’ is inadvertently selected instead of ‘Reverse’.
  • Adaptive Cruise Control – is designed to maintain a safe distance from the car in front, regardless of the varying speed of that car.
  • Lane Departure Warning – audibly alerts a driver when the system determines that the car is drifting across demarcated lanes.
  • Vehicle Sway Warning – alerts the driver if the car starts to drift across the road, which often occurs as a result of driver fatigue.
  • Progressive Motion Monitor – if the EyeSight™-equipped vehicle is stopped and the vehicle in front starts to move, the driver receives an audible reminder, in addition to a visible indicator,  alerting him to the fact that the car  in front has started moving.

Roll over protection systems

This system detects possible rollover and uses various occupant protection systems such as creating tension in seat belts and even seating positions to limit the possible movement of the driver and passengers. Rollover-enabled air bags are designed to remain inflated for several seconds after a crash, providing extra protection against objects flying around inside the car.

Pedestrian protection

Some cars are equipped with systems that can detect a crash with a pedestrian. To protect the occupants, it either deploys an external airbag or raises the vehicle's bonnet to cushion the impact, thereby lowering the chance of injuries to the driver and passengers by the pedestrian entering the car through the windshield.

Remember that, irrespective of car safety ratings, the safety systems in your vehicle cannot protect you against reckless driving. Car safety systems are designed to protect occupants against injuries only when a car is used responsibly; the laws of physics mean injuries are always likely in a high-speed crash. That means, stick to the speed limit and always wear your seatbelt.

If your brakes aren't up to scratch, we recommend The Flying Dutchman's mobile services on Auckland's North Shore.

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