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The safety of all road users is a high priority to all manufacturers in the motor industry. Implementation of new technological developments ensures that improvements in occupant and pedestrian safety continue to be made.

The most common way formotorists to assess the relative safety of vehicles is through the European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP) vehicle star rating system. Euro NCAP provides consumers with an independent assessment of the safety performance of the most popular cars sold in Europe. Established in 1997, Euro NCAP has rapidly become a catalyst for encouraging significant safety improvements to new car design with many cars now achieving the five star standard.

Road safety is a complex issue that can only be effectively tackled through an integrated approach at local, national and international level. Industry is committed to continued involvement with road safety organisations such as RoadSafe, and high levels of research and development in order continually to improve its products.

Manufacturers work proactively to identify areas of vehicle design and construction that can be improved to increase their level of safety. Safety features can be split into active and passive safety, where passive systems operate with no driver input, eg airbags, and active safety systems operate in interaction with the driver, eg electronic stability control.

Technology and vehicle design has made a real difference to road safety but there is still more to be done. Real success will depend on all parts of the industry working together to ensure safer vehicles continue to be delivered.

How important was the invention of the seat belt?

The seat belt has probably saved more lives globally than any other safety device. In Britain it is estimated that 500 lives a year are saved by seat belt use.

You don’t need seat belts if you have an airbag. Do you?

Air bags are designed to be used with seat belts. That is why they are called supplementary restraint systems. According to research carried out by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the United States, air bags alone are only 12% effective at reducing deaths.

What other safety innovations are there and what can we expect to see in the future?

Modern cars are fitted with a myriad safety features to protect occupants including passive systems such as airbags, seat belts, safety cells and side airbag curtains and active systems such as antilock brakes, traction control, electronic stability program (ESP) and active head restraints. Pedestrian protection is also a high priority with features that include de-formable bumpers – collapsible wing mirrors and softer bonnets with fewer external protrusions. Other technologies include, blind spot warning and lane departure systems.

We are also seeing the development of high-tech night vision systems, ‘smart’ external airbags and more sophisticated ‘intelligent’ systems. Some will combine active and safety technologies know as CAPS (combined active and passive systems) designed to protect and mitigate the severity of injuries to driver and passengers in the event of a collision and to send detailed location information to the emergency services.

How do airbags work?

Airbags work via a series of sensors around the vehicle that can tell the severity of any impact. If a violent deceleration is detected, then, in a fraction of a second, a small pyrotechnic device deploys the vehicle’s airbag systems. Vehicle airbags prevent drivers and occupants striking the dashboard or steering wheel, and increasingly, side airbags and curtains are fitted for heavy side impact protection.

Haven’t there been cases where airbags have caused injuries?

Airbags are a vital safety feature on modern cars, but must be used according to the manufacturer’s recommended guidelines. Airbags are not there to replace seatbelts they are designed to work in harmony with them. If you have any doubts about vehicle airbags, consult your nearest franchised dealer.

Airbags are expensive to replace, are second hand ones OK?

Never fit a second hand airbag. It is impossible to verify the history of any airbag, therefore it is impossible to tell if it will operate effectively in the event of a crash.

What is ESC?

Electronic Stability Control (ESC) helps reduce the likelihood of accidents which involve a vehicle skidding in a spin and/or overturning. ESC compares whether the driver’s steering input corresponds to the actual direction in which the vehicle is moving. If the vehicle understeers or oversteers, ESC detects the critical situation and reacts immediately. Specific braking intervention is directed at individual wheels to generate counteracting force so the car reacts as the driver intends.

How successful is ESC?

Recent research has found that vehicles which are fitted with ESC are 25% less likely to be involved in a fatal accident than those without it. Also, they are 11% less likely to be involved in a serious accident and overall 7% fewer crashes involving an injury. (Department for Transport)

How secure are modern cars?

Modern cars are very secure. Official figures and Thatcham research revealed that virtually no modern cars can be driven away without the correct keys. Manufacturers are continually working on new technology to make vehicles harder to steal.

But you still can’t stop them being broken into can you?

However secure manufacturers make new cars, it is impossible (and dangerous) to turn them into fortresses. A determined professional thief, with time on his side, will eventually crack even the most secure vehicle. As drivers and owners, it is important that we remember a few things when we park our cars.

  • Never leave valuables on display.
  • Always try to leave your car in a safe, well lit area.
  • Never leave your keys in the ignition when you go to pay for petrol.

Why isn’t there one common global fixing system for child seats?

There is! Manufacturers and seat makers have developed the ISOFIX child restraint system which enables the fitting of ISOFIX child seats to any vehicle that has special ISOFIX anchorages. However, owners should always seek advice on the suitability of particular seats from their local dealer.

What should I do if I am unsure about how to fit a child seat?

The best advice is to contact your nearest franchised dealer who can advise you on the correct fitting of the child seat to that model of car. It is important to remember that children carried in rearward facing child seats must in no circumstances be carried in a front seat position equipped with an airbag.

What is RoadSafe?

RoadSafe is a partnership between the motor industry, road safety professionals and government to work together towards casualty reduction targets.

How does RoadSafe reduce the number of injuries on Britain’s roads?

RoadSafe will help reduce the number of injuries by bringing together the key people who can influence legislation, road design and driving standards to ensure that they make best use of the high level of safety features on a modern vehicle.

What steps have manufacturers already taken to reduce pedestrian injuries?

Manufacturers have already introduced measures to improve pedestrian safety. Deformable bumpers, collapsible wing mirrors, softer bonnets and recessed windscreen wipers all have a part to play in producing safer vehicles for pedestrians. It is also important to realise the part that active safety features have to offer, things like anti-lock brakes, traction control systems and advanced tyre technology. More and more cars are also three star performers on NCAP tests.