Insuring Safety Inside and Outside of the Car
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UPDATED: Aug 10, 2016
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Car safety is on the forefront of everyone’s minds. We know that we run the risk of injuring others and ourselves when we get behind the wheel. We’re taught this, not only in driver’s training, but also through the media on a regular basis. Why? Because although the automobile is a necessity, it is also a weapon if operated improperly. Those graphic videos of severe accidents we endure during driver’s education are meant to burn the hole they do in our subconscious. It is a driver’s responsibility to always make certain he or she is insuring safety inside and outside of the car before turning the ignition key.
- Harvard University: “The Struggle for Auto Safety” by Jerry L. Mashaw and David L. Harfst (PDF File)
- Smithsonian Institute: Safety Crusaders
Many new automobiles come with safety features never imagined, but one tried and true safety feature that was originally patented in 1885 is the seatbelt. The first seatbelts were not the dual straps we know today, but the idea was the same: Protect people by harnessing them into their seats. What started off as an option became law when it was realized how many people survived automobile accidents by wearing a seatbelt.
Legislators could not ignore the difference in mortality rates between accidents involving drivers and passengers wearing versus not wearing seatbelts, and on January 1, 1968, the federal government made seatbelts a mandatory feature in all vehicles except busses. New York was the first state to take the legislation further and require all drivers and passengers to wear seatbelts in 1984. Since that time, every state except New Hampshire has passed seatbelt laws requiring drivers and passengers to click it or get a ticket when in the car. Don’t take short cuts when you click it! Sure, that shoulder restraint creeps up and chokes you occasionally, but you could seriously injure yourself if you do not wear your vehicle’s seatbelt properly, including dislocating your shoulder, or worse yet losing an arm with a seatbelt tucked under your armpit instead of across your front as designed.
- Arizona Department of Public Safety: Seat Belt Safety
- Wisconsin Department of Transportation: Seat Belt Safety
Few images are more horrific than the slow motion footage of crash test dummy babies being flung about a car upon impact. What if that were your child? Children — and pets for that matter — are perhaps the greatest victims of irresponsible safety habits inside the car. Their lighter weight turns them into ballistic missiles, even if the driver is only driving 10 to 20 miles per hour. It doesn’t matter. Upon impact, they are strewn about a car with no protection from whatever they might hit.
Booster seats, or child safety seats as they’re officially dubbed, are mandatory in all states to protect the little ones in the event of an accident. These seats fasten into the vehicle’s standard back seat using its seatbelt, and then restrain the infant or small child with an ergonomic design and additional belts to insure the utmost stability in the event of an accident. Although laws surrounding booster seats vary from state to state, the federal Department of Transportation recommends children smaller than 4 feet and 9 inches be placed in some form of child safety seat. It is also important to keep in mind that older safety seats are dangerous. Buying a used one might be less expensive, but experts state that child safety seats older than 5 years old do not provide the same protection as newer ones.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: Child Seats — Is Your Child in the Right Car Seat?
- Texas Department of Transportation: Safety Tips – Seat Belts and Safety Seats
There are mixed feelings about air bags. Yes, they protect passengers from flying through a windshield or being crushed by the steering column, but they can also be deadly to infants and small children, who are not equipped size-wise to handle the impact into the plastic plume. Another concern, albeit a petty one considering the unit most likely saved a life, is the cost of resetting a deployed airbag. In some cases, that can be a wrecked automobile’s most expensive repair.
Airbags do save lives, however, so working with them outweighs the disadvantages of them, and the federal government began passing legislation surrounding airbags in 1984. At first, the legal requirements stated that by April 1989, all cars had to be equipped with some form of passive restraint. This could be a driver’s front airbag or an automatic seatbelt. By 1998, the legislation had morphed into what we know today: All vehicles must be equipped with both driver and passenger front seat airbags. In fact, most vehicles today have airbags along the entire inside of the vehicle to protect passengers in the back seat, as well. Most state laws will not allow children under the age of 12 to ride in the front seat of the car. This prevents the danger of them being killed by a deployed airbag. If your child is too small or too young, do not allow them ride in the front seat — even in their child safety seat and despite their pleas to do so.
- Michigan State Police: Air Bags — General Information and Statistics
- State of Maine Bureau of Highway Safety: Air Bags
Brakes seem like an obvious safety feature. A car is going to run into something if it can’t stop. But while some brakes conjure up playful images of Fred Flintstone using his feet to stop his “bedrock mobile,” the seriousness of being unable to stop a car should never be taken lightly. Brakes are something most drivers don’t give a second thought to, until their brakes fail and they are speeding toward a crowded intersection unable to stop the vehicle’s forward motion.
Automobile braking technology dates back to the beginning of the 20th century, and has evolved from the original drum brakes to braking systems that actually stop your car for you. While the brakes themselves are a no-brainer when it comes to vehicle safety, maintaining them seems to be for some car owners. Many people are guilty of not keeping their car’s braking system up to snuff, failing to understand the danger they are placing themselves, and others, in. Brakes require regular maintenance that is dependent upon the vehicle you own, and brakes definitely need to be replaced when their components become worn and can no longer stop the vehicle safely and effectively. Drivers who think they can’t afford a new set of brakes should consider the cost of an accident, because unlike Fred Flintstone, we can’t stop our cars with our feet.
Getting your driver’s license for the first time or renewed isn’t just about going to your local department of motor vehicles and passing a few tests; your car has to pass a few tests, as well. This is also the case when you are registering and re-registering your vehicle. Keeping up to date on what your state requires for your vehicle to qualify being on the road is a critical component of insuring the safety of your car both inside and outside. Californians, for example, know all too well about the importance of their cars passing that smog inspection.
Every car part serves a purpose, and insuring every car part is up to par will insure you pass vehicle inspection. Your car has to have a certain pound of air in its tires because if they are under or over inflated, you could have a blowout and cause a serious accident. Think that pile of junk isn’t hurting anyone as you hobble down the freeway? What if you break down and the person behind has zero time to stop? States are clear that your car has to be fit to be on the road, so keep up with your vehicle inspection updates to make sure you don’t get surprised the next time you visit the DMV.
- State of New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission: Inspections
- New York State Department of Motor Vehicles: Vehicle Safety, Inspection, Repairs, and Dealers
It’s hard to imagine a car that practically drives itself when you look at Henry Ford’s Model T, but that is exactly where Mr. Ford’s initial vision of the personal vehicle is headed. Tired of that person tailgating you down the road? Are you guilty of dangerous tailgating? Vehicles are now being equipped with speed control as part of their cruise control unit. What started off as a luxury has become a more standard feature. Simply put, this form of cruise control will slow the car down if it’s getting too close to vehicle ahead. Drivers using this feature insure they don’t follow the car in front of them too closely should something else grab their attention.
Newer vehicles are also equipped with cameras and sensors that protect the car and its driver from unavoidable blind spots. It’s happened to all of us, you’re backing up and didn’t see that tricycle behind the car. Or, you’re changing lanes and didn’t see the car next to you because it was right in your vehicle’s blind spot. Sensors can detect presences, most importantly humans or animals, in the way and alert the driver that he or she is about to hit something. This is key to insuring safety outside of the vehicle, as your car has a second set of eyes just in case your eyes don’t see the impending danger.
- U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration: Safety Technologies
- Northeastern University: Top 10 High-Tech Car Safety Technologies
- Stanford University: “Personal Information and the Design of Vehicle Safety” by Michael T. Zimmer
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