Other FeaturesSide Airbags and Side-Curtain Airbags
Like seatbelts and electronic stability control systems, side airbags with head protection save an incredible number of people every year. According to the IIHS, more than 9,000 drivers and passengers die annually in side impact crashes, most due to head trauma. Side airbags with head protection have proven to cut driver deaths in driver-side impacts by about 45 percent, whereas regular side airbags (without head protection) limit driver fatalities by about 11 percent. However, since it is undetermined how many of those 9,000 fatalities were drivers, we’re unable to give an accurate estimate of the total lives saved.
Side airbags deploy either from the seat or from the door panels, working to protect the driver or an occupant’s torso. Head protection comes from extended sections of side airbags or from overhead curtain airbags. Both aim to prevent the occupant’s head from contacting the pillar or window glass at full force. And, again, buyers don’t have to shell out a fortune to get this kind of protection. All 2006 Hyundai Sonata models, with prices starting at $18,495 (including a $600 destination charge), include side and side-curtain airbags as standard equipment.
Next to seatbelts, tires may be the most important safety items on a vehicle – they provide traction, contribute to vehicle control, and can cause major problems and serious injury when they fail. That’s why manufacturers have developed self-sealing and run-flat tires.
Self-sealing tires are like the traditional tires you’ve been riding on for years, but they have an added internal layer of sealant that immediately fills any small punctures, preventing a blowout on the highway while the driver remains totally unaware of any problem. However, if the hole is too big, say a quarter inch or greater, the sealant is ineffective.
Run-flat tires feature an extra-strength sidewall that is able to safely carry the vehicle’s weight when air pressure is lost due to a puncture. Typically, run-flats will get the vehicle another 50 to 100 miles down the road at up to 55 mph, which should safely get most folks to the nearest service station or tire shop.
Finally, there are tire pressure monitoring systems designed to alert the driver if any of the vehicle’s tires are low on air pressure, a condition that can negatively affect the car’s handling and fuel economy. By 2008, all new cars will be required to have a tire pressure monitoring system that tells drivers when any tire measures 75 percent or less of its recommended inflation pressure. NHTSA expects that this new requirement will save 120 lives annually.
Side Door Beams
Side door beams saved 994 accident victims in 2002, according to figures published by NHTSA. These steel or aluminum structures are mounted out of view inside of the doors, some being placed horizontally while others run diagonally from the lower doorframe up to the lower windowsill. Regardless of where they’re located, side door beams are intended to act as an extra, energy-absorbing safety layer between a vehicle’s occupants and outside forces. They have proven to be especially effective in crashes with fixed objects like trees.
Crumple zones were first introduced by Mercedes-Benz back in the 1960s, designed to gradually deform and absorb most, if not all of, the crash energy in a wreck. By designing the body of the vehicle to crumple in this way, occupants are subjected to less abrupt impact force. Modern crumple zones are designed to not only absorb crash energy, but also to deflect it. Certain front frame assemblies, for example, move rearward and below the passenger compartment in the event of a front-end collision, further lessening the impact energy experienced by the car’s occupants.
Manufacturers and groups like NHTSA and IIHS do their best to make sure you and your passengers are safe, but ultimately, the responsibility is yours. Driving beyond your skill level or in an unsafe manner will eventually cause harm to someone – if not to you or your passengers, then to an innocent pedestrian or fellow traveler.
That’s why it’s important to take driver education seriously. There are schools across the country that provide hands-on learning with experienced instructors in a safe environment. Programs sponsored by Skip Barber and Bob Bondurant, both of which our editors have attended, are just two of many that are available to learn advanced car control.
Once the skills are addressed, drivers also need to pay attention to the road and drive responsibly. That means using turn signals, pulling off of the road if you must use your cell phone, giving up the car keys if you’ve been drinking, and leaving the electric razor and eye lash curler in the bathroom at home.
Photos courtesy of the Manufacturers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration