• Car Safety Considerations: What You Need To Know

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    Safety is the most important consideration when looking for a new or used car. Every year the Federal New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) publishes safety ratings. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) also produces findings from crash-test studies and other safety information. The car shopping process must include safety research and a great place to start is a website called crashtest.com. In addition to the most current information, they feature safety data on older cars.

    Safety considerations can be divided into three categories: weight of the vehicle, passive safety features, which help passengers stay alive and uninjured in a crash and finally, active safety features. These features help drivers avoid accidents in the first place. Keep in mind that testing is conducted with test dummies wearing seat belts and shoulder harnesses. Without them, a 15 mile per hour crash could prove fatal no matter what you drive.

    Weight Matters

    All cars must meet US Department of Transportation standards for crash-worthiness. Larger and heavier cars, however, are usually safer in a collision than smaller ones. If a heavier vehicle collides head-on with a lighter one, the lighter will suffer substantially more damage. Drivers under age 20 experience a much higher percentage of traffic fatalities when compared to other drivers, so consider the safety of a large or mid-sized sedan for inexperienced drivers. Large cars offer increased levels of comfort and roominess when compared to their smaller siblings, and today's fuel injected engines allow mid-sized, 6-cylinder automobiles to enjoy remarkably good gas mileage.

    Passive Safety Features

    Passive safety features help drivers and passengers stay alive and uninjured in a crash. Size is a safety feature: bigger is safer.

    Restraint systems are crucial. Safety belts are the best safety device ever developed for the automobile. First installed in the 1950s, they have been mandatory equipment since 1967. Initial use was low (20% in 1970), but education and legislation increased their usage to over 70% by 1987. Modern restraints have automatic seat-belt pre-tensioners to pick up the slack and stretch that occurs in an accident, providing better occupant protection and additional space for the airbag deployment. It's important to remember that even though airbags help reduce serious injuries, safety belts are still needed for full protection.

    Seat belts and airbags work together in a collision. Driver and passenger-side airbags are now standard equipment on every new motor vehicle sold in theUS. Most used cars made after 1996 have them as well. Side-impact airbags greatly increase protection. Despite some bad press, airbags save thousands of lives every year. Manufacturers have reintroduced the two-stage airbag to avoid potential injuries to children and small adults from cheaper one-stage designs. It's still vital, however, that children ride in the back seat of any motor vehicle.

    A word about disconnecting airbags: babies or children under 4' 7" should never ride in the front seat of a vehicle because rapidly inflating airbags can severely injure or kill small front seat occupants. If there's a child in your future and you have a two-seater, ask your dealer to install a disconnect switch for the passenger-side airbag. You don't want it permanently disconnected; airbags DO save adult lives.

    Most automobile headrests provide little protection in rear-end accidents The federal government required their installation in 1967. An effective headrest is one that is directly behind the centerline of the head and positioned no more than two inches away. Be aware that some seating options change the size and style of head restraint.

    Structural integrity is another important component of passive safety. The US Department of Transportation requires that the doors and passenger compartments of automobiles made after 1996 meet minimal side impact standards. The legislation doesn't apply to light trucks (minivans, pickups, SUVs), but most manufacturers of even these vehicles have complied with the law.

    Active Safety Features

    Active safety features help drivers avoid accidents. A vehicle's tires, brakes, handling, acceleration, and visibility all make important contributions to active crash avoidance.

    The most important safety items on a car are the tires. Think about it: they're all that connects your vehicle to the road. A good set of tires can make a huge difference to the way a car responds to emergency maneuvers. Tire quality also noticeably affects the way a car handles. Sport touring tires have much more grip than regular tires, although their softer compounds don't last as long.

    Anti-lock brakes (ABS) are an often-misunderstood active safety feature. ABS helps vehicles stop shorter and maintain steering control while braking, especially on slippery surfaces. Anti-lock brakes sense when a wheel is locked and electronically pump the brakes ten times faster than a driver could, making a ratcheting noise and a vibration in the brake pedal. Old braking techniques must be unlearned in order to use ABS effectively. In a panic stop, depress the brake pedal once, and hold it down firmly. Do not pump the pedal.

    Traction control is a worthwhile option that improves traction and directional stability on slippery roads, using a combination of electronics, drive train control, and ABS. Some systems adjust engine power output while gently applying the brakes to particular wheels during acceleration and cornering. These systems help stabilize a vehicle's handling when it's pushed to the limits.

    When shopping remember four-wheel-drive pick-up trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) are designed to be driven for work, hauling, and off-road purposes. They are not designed to be people movers, and don't handle nearly as well as passenger cars or mini vans. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that SUVs are four times more likely to roll over than passenger cars in high-speed maneuvers. In addition, SUV-to-car collisions are six times more likely to kill the occupants of the smaller vehicle when compared to a normal car-to-car collision. You may be safer inside an SUV, but you're at greater risk of killing others in the event of an accident.

    If you're in the market for a great, safe vehicle call today.

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