Car safety

New car safety

Crashing for safety

The most important feature of any car is the level of protection it gives occupants and other road users in a crash, so it’s essential that car buyers are able to make an informed choice. RACV recommends new car buyers purchase a car with the highest ANCAP rating.

As a founding member of ANCAP, RACV has been conducting vehicle crash testing and publishing the results for over 20 years.

Even though all car-makers perform their own crash testing to prove they meet the Australian Design Rules (ADRs), rapid improvements in vehicle design and safety technologies mean that most new cars now provide protection well above this required minimum.

ANCAP recognises this and has much more demanding criteria. A vehicle meeting only minimum Australian Design Rule requirements would receive a low ANCAP rating.

To make the results easy to interpret ANCAP assigns a star rating as an easy to understand measure of a vehicle’s occupant protection.

How the testing is done

ANCAP uses a range of crash tests, undertaken by specialist laboratories. In each test, dummies are used to measure the forces on occupants in the crash which are then assessed in conjunction with a physical examination of the vehicle to determine a test score RACV's own vehicle engineers attend these crashes.

Frontal offset test

The car is propelled into a crushable barrier at 64km/h, with the test designed so that only 40% - the driver’s side hits the barrier. Simulates hitting another car of the same mass travelling at the same speed

Side impact test

A 950kg trolley with a crushable face to simulate the front of another vehicle is run into the driver’s side of the vehicle at 50km/h.

Pole test

The car is propelled sideways at 29km/h into a narrow rigid pole aligned with the driver’s head. Curtain airbags are very effective in reducing the chance of serious head injury in this type of crash.

Pedestrian test

This estimates head and leg injuries to pedestrians struck by a vehicle at 40km/h.  These crashes represent about 15% of fatal crashes in Australia and New Zealand - as high as 30% in some urban areas.

Whiplash test

Two parts - a geometric measurement of the head restraint, and a dynamic test using the seat mounted to a test sled simulating a rear-end crash equivalent to being hit at 32km/h.

Safety Assist Technologies (SAT)

Vehicles must be fitted with certain safety features and technologies which are assessed alongside the crash tests to give an overall score. This score is translated into an ANCAP safety rating of between 1 to 5 stars.

The higher the score the greater the safety.

Used Car Safety Ratings

2015-2016 update - passenger vehicles built 1996–2013

Used Car Safety Ratings are an excellent resource to help motorists buy a safe, second-hand car because the ratings are based on real crashes. A Safe Pick rating not only provides you with good protection but also protects the occupants of other vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. See the online used car guide before you buy a used car.

Top used car safe picks

About a third of cars tested scored a Poor or Very Poor rating for occupant crash safety protection. It’s not all bad news though, the Ford Fiesta manufactured from 2009-2013 did very well In the Light Car category, scoring 5 stars. In fact top rating used vehicles can be bought for less than $10,000 so safety doesn’t have to be compromised by price. The FG Falcon (2008-2013) is another Safe Pick for under $8000. Other lower-priced top rating Safe Pick models include Honda Civic (2006-11), Subaru Impreza (2007-11), Holden Captiva (2006-13) and Toyota Aurion (2006-12). See more cars for under $5000, $10,000 and $20,000.

How ratings are calculated

Records from over 7 million vehicles in police-reported road crashes in Australia and New Zealand were analysed. The ratings were calculated using an internationally reviewed method and show that risk of injury is influenced by the vehicle’s mass, the structural design of the body, and the safety features, such as airbags and types of seatbelts.

Models of vehicles that cause less injuries to other road users, including other drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, as well as providing excellent protection for the occupants and are fitted with Electronic Stability Control (ESC) are awarded the “Safe Pick” label. In some models ESC was only provided as an option so it’s well worth if the particular car you’re looking at has it fitted.

The ratings are based on work by the Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) in conjunction with the RACV, TAC and VicRoads.

Reversing visibility

Reversing cameras and sensors can greatly improve a driver’s reversing visibility. For parents with young children this is massive for peace of mind.  

In 2016, 240 vehicles were tested, 65% scored the full five-star rating, a significant increase from 53% in 2015 and a huge leap over the 14% only five years ago.  

What makes for good reversing visibility?

All vehicles with a five-star rating had reversing cameras fitted indicating customers are increasingly demanding these features. As the testing clearly shows, these technologies can markedly increase reversing safety.

How can I be safer in the driveway?

Don't just rely on a reversing camera or sensors but use them as a tool to get a better view of the whole surroundings.

It’s important to make sure you also check the rear-view mirror and look over your shoulder before reversing and constantly scan all the reversing visibility devices.

Children should be actively supervised when near a reversing vehicle and drivers should always check to ensure there are no children behind their vehicle before reversing.

How is reversing visibility calculated?

The RACV Reversing Visibility Index was developed to help motorists compare how well a variety of popular makes and models of cars shape up when it comes to their rearward visibility. This measure takes into account the visible area and distance across the rear of a vehicle and whether a camera and sensors have been installed. Results are rated on a scale of zero to five stars with a rating of five indicating better reversing visibility than all other vehicles. Here’s a video to explain how it was done:


Airbags

Airbag safety

Airbags are so common that we rarely even think about them but countless people owe their lives to them. But there are a few things that will make them even better at protecting you:

Always put on and wear the seatbelt correctly. Do not sit with the head or chest closer than 30cm from the steering wheel. Do not drive with an arm across the steering wheel. In a frontal crash the inflating airbag may injure the arm which would be projected towards the face of the driver. If the vehicle is fitted with steering wheel height and or seat height adjustment, make sure it is adjusted correctly.

Always place kids in the back seat. If there is no other option to the child sitting in the front, make sure the child is wearing the seatbelt and is not seated closer than 30cm to the passenger airbag.

How an airbag works

The most obvious one is the steering wheel bag so as an example let’s consider how that works in a frontal collision.

As the vehicle hits strikes an object, sensors detect the change in speed the collision causes and send a signal to the car’s brain the ECU. If the change in speed is above a certain threshold, then the ECU will decide that it’s time for airbags.

If the crash is serious, the ECU then ignites the inflator, in essence a stack of explosive wafers which rapidly emits gas, resulting in the deployment of the airbag.

All going well, by the time the force of the collision reaches the occupants the airbags are fully inflated and they are ready to cushion the impact. The inflation of the driver airbag takes between 20- 30 milliseconds and the passenger side 30-40 milliseconds. For comparison a blink of an eye takes between 100-400 milliseconds.

Curtain airbags

Unlike in a front crash, where the occupants are relatively protected well behind the bonnet area and restrained by a seatbelt, in a side impact there is precious little between the occupant and the impact.

So crucial is providing an extra buffer in this space, that research in the U.S. has found the risk of fatality in a side impact is reduced by 45% if a head-protecting side airbag is fitted. This is backed up by the results of ANCAP's pole tests, in which the presence of this type of airbag is a pre-requisite for a realistic chance of survival, even at the relatively slow speed of 29km/h.

Airbag problems

We occasionally hear from people who have been involved in a minor accident and are concerned that the airbag didn’t go off. The very fact they were uninjured means the car has done its job.

This threshold is an important thing to remember since an airbag deploying is quite a violent event in itself. You really don’t want one going off if it’s not entirely necessary such as in a minor fender- bender

One of the largest recalls in history, concerned the airbag. Basically the faulty airbags had inflators that would ignite too vigorously and cause the metal container around the wafers to burst sending bits of metal with it.

What about older airbags?

As long as the vehicle is kept in reasonable condition, the electronics and airbag should last for the life of the vehicle. However there are varying statements from industry experts about the lifespan of inflators.

If ever the airbag warning light comes on and stays on then you should take your car to a licensed mechanic to be checked.

The rise of the airbag

Airbags have been fitted to vehicles sold in Australia since the mid-1980s. Originally only found in more expensive luxury vehicles airbags became widespread in Australian vehicles with the introduction of the Holden Commodore VR in 1993.

Manufacturers continue to find new ways to use airbags. In addition to the curtain and frontal airbags, there are now knee, seatbelt and even under-bonnet airbags designed to protect pedestrians.

Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB)

Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB)

AEB uses radar, laser or camera sensors to detect potential crashes and apply the brakes to prevent or reduce the severity of a crash. Some systems also prepare the vehicle for a crash, such as the pre-tensioning of seatbelts.

AEB is very effective in situations where there is poor visibility, a driver is distracted or has limited time to react to things like sudden braking of a car in front or a child running out after a ball.

A 2014 RACV report on emerging vehicle safety technology revealed that depending on system type 20-40% of crashes, including fatal crashes may be prevented with AEB. Even if crashes are not completely prevented, the reductions in speed may be sufficient to prevent death and serious injury.


Anti-lock Braking System (ABS)

When a driver brakes hard and suddenly in an emergency situation, ABS prevents the wheels of the car from locking up. Car steering is only effective while the wheels are turning, so by preventing the wheels from locking, the driver maintains steering control while being able to apply maximum braking force. ABS is most beneficial in wet conditions or on slippery surfaces where wheel locking is more likely to happen.

Electronic Stability Control (ESC)

Electronic Stability Control is very effective by helping drivers to maintain control of their cars. ESC intervenes when the car starts to travel to a different course than intended by the driver. This usually happens when a driver tries to turn very hard, swerve or to turn on a slippery road. In these situations a car without ESC might skid or spin out of control.

ESC uses the same technology as ABS with additional sensors to measure steering wheel position and vehicle rotation. It can automatically apply the brakes to an individual wheel and in some cases it will reduce the engine power. The intervention of ESC helps the driver to maintain control of the vehicle. Some ESC systems will intervene sooner than others. Other vehicles are fitted with switches that either delay or completely remove intervention. RACV recommends it is left on when driving.

Traction control

Traction control prevents wheel spin under acceleration which helps to maintain steering when accelerating.

Electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD)

Electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) helps to balance braking forces between front and rear. In turn this helps to minimise braking distance and keep stability under light axle loads.

Emergency Brake Assist (EBA)

EBA detects when emergency braking is required in ‘panic stop’ situations and automatically increases brake pressure to stop the vehicle sooner than if the driver were braking unassisted. It is very useful for people with less strength in their lower limbs.

Lane departure systems

Lane departure systems are designed to help reduce crashes by alerting drowsy or distracted drivers that the vehicle has wandered out of its lane. They do this by providing audible and visible warnings for drivers to take corrective action. Some of the more sophisticated lane departure systems can automatically redirect the car back into its driving lane.

Adaptive headlights

Adaptive headlights use sensors to control the headlights on the car so the driver can see the road better, particularly around bends, providing a clearer view of what’s ahead.

Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC): ACC is similar to standard cruise control with the added advantage that it automatically adjusts the car’s speed to keep a set distance from the vehicle ahead.

Fast facts: Did you know...? The time it takes you to blink is, on average, 300 to 400 milliseconds.

 A typical front airbag for both driver and passenger can fully inflate in approximately 50 milliseconds!

Lights

Good lights used correctly makes it safer both for you and for other road users as well as making driving easier.

Alignment and maintenance of lights

Even a minor misalignment can reduce visibility and dazzle other drivers. It can also make your car uunroadworthy.

  • The operation of lights should be checked regularly. Check that all globes are operating.
  • Ask to have your lights checked and the headlights re-aimed during regular servicing.
  • Dirt and road grime on lenses can significantly reduce light output and distort the beam, so make they are cleaned regularly.

Improving visibility

Dirty or damaged windscreens and worn wipers reduce visibility and increase the effects of glare.

  • Wet conditions make driving and seeing the road harder and if your windscreen wipers smear the screen, visibility is even worse. Regularly clean the windscreen inside and out and the windscreen wiper rubbers. Replace rubbers at least once a year.
  • Repair any chips, scratches or cracks in the windscreen as soon as possible, or replace the windscreen.

Night driving tips

  • Most car interior mirrors have day/night positions. The night setting reduces the reflected glare from the lights of following vehicles.
  • If dazzled by another vehicle, avoid looking directly at its lights. Slow down, stay to the left and focus on the edge of the road.
  • Respect other drivers. Take care when using high-beam headlights or driving lights. Remember, they'll not only dazzle oncoming traffic but can also dazzle the driver of a vehicle in front of you through the mirrors.

Daytime running lights

Daytime running lights (DRLs) increase its visibility to other road users during the daytime. They should not be confused with driving or fog lamps, which are more likely to cause glare or annoyance.

  • Daytime running lights (DRLs) reduce the risk of collision during the daytime.
  • If your car doesn’t have DRLs, operating your headlights on low beam during the daytime can make your car more visible.

Lighting glare

Dazzling headlights are annoying and dangerous.

Some glare can’t be avoided. For example, as a car crosses speed humps the headlight beam naturally rises and falls. Bumpy roads can create a similar effect so be aware of this if a car is approaching. A trailer or heavy load in the boot or a can change the angle at which your lights are pointing. Some headlights can be adjusted electrically to compensate.

Glare affects some people more than others and it gets worse as we age. A 50-year-old driver can take twice as long to recover from dazzling lights than when they were 20.

One of the major causes of lighting glare is bad alignment. Misaligned headlights can make a vehicle unroadworthy.

High-beam lights are also a cause of glare. The Road Rules prohibit high-beam headlights being used if you are less than 200 metres behind a vehicle or less than 200 metres from an oncoming vehicle. However, if the driver is overtaking headlights may be switched to high-beam immediately before overtaking.

Damaged or dirty windscreens reduce visibility and increase glare. Chips, cracks, scratches and sandblasting (fine pitting of the glass surface) as well as dirt and the film that builds up on the inside of the screen causes light to flare and spread, making the glare even worse. Wet conditions always make driving and seeing the road ahead harder but if your windscreen wipers smear the screen, the light flaring once again is much worse.

If confronted by glare, try not to look directly at the approaching car's lights. Slow down and stay to the left of the road.

Fog lights and driving lights

Fog lights are designed to improve the visibility of the road during fog. It is illegal to use front fog lights during normal weather conditions.

Driving lights are fitted to provide more light, particularly in country areas. These lights must be wired to switch off when low beam is selected. Driving lights are designed to supplement high-beam headlights. The light output is intense and projects well down the road.

Fog lights are often confused with driving lights. The major difference is their light pattern. Fog lights have a low, flat, fan shaped beam used to illuminate underneath the mist line.

Like headlights, fog lights and driving lights should be properly aligned. Even small misalignments can cause excessive glare for other road users. Ask to have your lights checked during regular servicing.

Rear fog lights make the vehicle more fog or other hazardous weather conditions. Use of a rear fog light can cause glare and mask operation of brake lights. An indicator light is used to alert the driver that rear fog lights are on.

Rules for fog lights and driving lights

Front fog lights
  • May emit a white or yellow light.
  • Should have an indicator light.
  • Need to be operated independently of headlights.
  • Must only be used in hazardous weather conditions.
Rear fog light
  • Must emit a red light.
  • Should have an indicator light.
  • Must be at least 100 millimetres from brake lights.
  • Must only be used in hazardous weather conditions.
Driving lights
  • Must be wired to operate only when the headlights are on high-beam.
  • Are considered equivalent to high beams, so their use is illegal when driving within 200 metres of another road user.
  • Must emit a white light.

Tyres

The tyres are arguably the most important primary safety feature. They are the only contact between you and the road, and through them you control the vehicle's potential acceleration, braking and cornering forces.

Check tyres regularly

You should get into the habit of checking tyre pressures at least once a month. This is most conveniently done at a service station, but be aware that the gauges at these places can get battered. If the one you use looks a bit worse for wear, go somewhere else or check the pressures against your own gauge (available from auto spares shops).

While checking the tyre pressures, also look for wear or damage. All tyres have inbuilt indicators to show when they are worn too far.

If there is noticeably uneven wear, the wheel may need rebalancing or the steering alignment may be out. Either way, a specialist should check it. If there are splits or damage, it could be time for a new set of tyres.

Tyre wear

Day-to-day use of the car quickly causes bits of the tyre to be scrubbed off. Since most cars these days are front wheel drive you’ll likely notice front tyres will invariably wear quicker than the rear.

This is because the front axle on a front-wheel-drive does the majority of the dynamic work of the vehicle’s chassis, including all of the power delivery, about 70% of the cornering forces and up to 90% of the braking forces. All of these forces are delivered through the tyre to the road surface.

The fact that they wear quicker is not in itself significant but what is relevant is how much better a new tyre performs than a worn one. Repeated heating and cooling of a tyre by the forces applied to it eventually affects the structure of the rubber, particularly how it springs back into shape.

Basically the tyre becomes harder, which degrades its grip and makes it much more prone to punctures. This process accelerates as rubber is worn away because there is less rubber to share the heat load. Finally, as a tyre wears the tread also reduces, meaning it displaces less water and so gradually compromising wet-weather performance.

Perhaps no other item on your car is taken for granted as much as the tyres. They are constantly being worked over as we drive but we usually don’t think about them until one goes flat.

The most usual form of tyre neglect is running them at too low a pressure. This causes heavy wear, delivers poor cornering and braking and, worst of all, blowouts, which can be catastrophic.

Beware under-inflation

You might think having a less-inflated tyre means more of it is in contact with the road but actually it’s the reverse. In an under-inflated tyre, the middle section bows up, leaving only the edges touching the road. This concentrates more heat and wear in these areas.

All car makers recommend pressures for the tyres on their cars. These are listed on a little placard usually found inside the driver’s door jamb or the fuel filler cap.

Tips for safe tyres

1.    Be wary of service station tyre gauges, consider buying your own quality pocket gauge

2.    Check tyre pressures, look for damage and embedded foreign objects every two to three weeks.

3.    Tyre pressures cold should never be below the cars placard specification. Slightly higher pressures are strongly recommended for improved grip, response, economy and life.

4.    Always use valve caps to exclude dust and water.

5.    Rectify the cause of irregular tread wear as soon as possible by consulting an expert. Minimum legal tread depth is 1.6mm across the full tread width.

6.    Have wheels balanced and aligned annually.

7.    Avoid second hand tyres. Their history is unknown.

 

Space savers - Temporary Use Tyres (TUTs)

Temporary Use Tyres (TUTs) are temporary use tyres that are not the same size as a vehicle's on-road wheels. They’ve grown from being an alternative in space-starved sports cars to standard issue for anything up to roomy four wheel drives.

All motorists should check their vehicle for the presence of a TUT and familiarise themselves with the limitations of driving with a TUT.

When purchasing a new vehicle, car buyers should:

  • seek information from the dealer as to whether the vehicle is fitted with a temporary use tyre: the sales person will probably not raise the issue, and
  • consider insisting on a full size spare as a condition of sale if the vehicle is capable of taking a full-size spare.

If you need to use one you should be aware to only drive it for the minimum distance required to repair or replace the damage to the full-size wheel and drive at all times within the conditions specified in owner's manual.

Background

The most widespread TUT type is the traditional space saver tyre. These tyres are prominent due to their reduced size and brightly painted rim.

An 80 km/h speed rating usually applies because of the compromise to the vehicles handling when it is fitted.

Other types of TUTs may even be supplied deflated and folded up into the boot to save more space.

Compromise to vehicle handling

A space saver is not a spare tyre, it is an emergency use tyre designed to allow the car to be driven to a repairer.

A downside to the small size of the space saver spare is that they often have dynamic deficiency during emergency braking, emergency swerving and cornering.

RACV conducted three tests on vehicles from four different market segments to assess vehicle handling when a TUT is fitted. Three involved traditional space saver spare tyres, and one was a smaller wheel spare tyre.

The space saver tyre increased braking distance by 15.4 metres or three and half car lengths when fitted to the front axle.

Cornering traction suffered appreciably when a traditional space saver was fitted; particularly on heavier vehicles such as large SUVs where the deterioration in grip levels was 13.5%.

The International Standards Test for Emergency Lane Change (the "Moose test") indicated that fitting a traditional space saver significantly increased the difficulty of emergency swerving without the vehicle becoming unstable.

RACV testing has revealed that a common type of space saver tyre is only capable of around 450 km of road driving before it becomes un-roadworthy.

Roadworthy requirements

Driving on a TUT is acceptable under Victorian roadworthy regulations as long as it is used within the specifications provided by the vehicle manufacturer in the vehicle's handbook. However, two TUTs cannot be fitted to any one vehicle and the vehicle cannot be presented at a roadworthy inspection with a TUT fitted.

Insurance

Insurance claims involving TUTs are treated like any other insurance claim whereby the contributing factors are determined individually for each case. While TUTs do not automatically exclude claims for approval, the insurer may determine whether the tyre was used within the specifications (e.g. speed requirements, fitment to a specific axle) of the vehicle manufacturer when assessing the claim.

Window tinting

Why people get windows tinted

There are a number of reasons motorists choose to tint their windows, including:

  • A perceived reduction in glare from the sun during the daytime,
  • A perceived reduction in heat being transmitted into the vehicle by the sun during the daytime,
  • A perceived reduction in load on the vehicle's air conditioning system, as a result of the reduction in heat entering the vehicle,
  • An increase in privacy for the vehicle's occupants, since people cannot see inside the vehicle's tinted windows as clearly
  • For aesthetic reasons.

Arguments against window tinting

  • Reduced driver vision through tinted side windows, particularly in twilight and night-time conditions, which may present a safety risk to both the occupants of vehicles with tinted windows, as well as to other road users.
  • The perceived benefits of a reduction of heat entering into the vehicle and a subsequent reduction in load on the air conditioning system are often exaggerated.
  • The reduction in ultra-violet (UV) light and any resulting reduction in glare as a result of window tinting are minimal.
  • The loss of any potential eye contact between driver of window tinted vehicles and other road users represents a safety risk.

Night driving

The perceived benefits of window tinting relate primarily to daytime driving. However unlike wearing sunglasses, drivers cannot remove tinting when driving in the night. Studies have identified that night driving presents a disproportionate risk, compared to daytime driving.

Tinting critics have raised the issue of threshold contrast: drivers' ability to detect low contrast objects such as cyclists and pedestrians, particularly at night time. Criticism has been aimed at window tinting for increasing the risk of these types of road users being struck in conditions of poor visibility, primarily during the night.

Reducing discomfort glare

Advocates for window tinting have argued that tinting reduces daytime glare in sunny conditions. This is true, however at a much lower cost, drivers are able to achieve the same reductions in glare by wearing sunglasses.

Reducing the risk of skin cancer

Window tinting advocates have argued that tinting cuts out ultraviolet (UV) rays, which in turn represents a lower risk of contracting skin cancer and other associated skin diseases. In fact, untinted window glass cuts out most harmful UV rays. 

Effect of window tinting on vehicles' air conditioning and fuel consumption

Various industry groups have argued in favour of window tinting, including as a benefit its positive effect on cooling vehicles, reducing the load on air conditioning systems and fuel consumption levels. However studies have shown temperature reductions of only around one degree in a moving vehicle as a result of having tinting and that the corresponding reduction on air conditioner load was almost insignificant.

Window tinting and older drivers

Window tinting is known to reduce threshold contrast, as discussed above. Natural degradation of older drivers' vision is known also to have the same effect. Although difficult to quantify at present, the combination of these two effects is likely to present a greater risk of collision for older drivers.

Victorian roadworthy requirements - window tinting

VicRoads state that all motor vehicles manufactured after July 1971 are required to comply with Australian Design Rule (ADR) 8/00 - Safety Glazing Material. This rule states that:

  • Windscreens must transmit at least 75% of visible light in the primary vision area (which excludes a small area along the top of the windscreen, as detailed in ADR 8/00),
  • All other windows other than the windscreen must transmit at least 35% of visible light.
  • No window fitted with tinting film must produce a reflectance value of more than 10% (a typical value for untreated glass).
  • It is not permitted to add tinting to the primary vision area of the front windscreen.

It has been argued that the minimum level for front side windows should also be raised to 75% (it is currently 35%). This would effectively prohibit the use of tinting film on them.

Motorists should ensure that any tinting treatment either existing or to be applied to their vehicle will not render their vehicle unroadworthy. This will occur if the light transmittance values fall below the roadworthy limits described above.

Many vehicle service centres, including RACV Service Centres, can check whether a window is roadworthy or not with a light meter.

Avoiding window tinting pitfalls

While a particular brand of tinting film may transmit enough light to be considered roadworthy, it must continue to do so when applied to the window. Car windows straight out of the factory already have a degree of 'tinting'. So if you have window tint fitted you should ensure the tinting service provider has guaranteed that the vehicle will not become unroadworthy as a result of having the tinting applied. This 'cumulative effect' is often overlooked by providers of window tinting.

Another pitfall is the 'bubble effect', where the tinting film separates from the window as well as scratches and general deterioration of the tinting film, over time. These conditions further reduce visibility and may render the vehicle unroadworthy. You should make sure the tinting provider offers a suitable warranty to cover this problem.

 

Head restraints

Head restraints are one of the most overlooked safety features in a car but they perform a vital role in preventing injury, in particular whiplash when a vehicle is struck from behind.

Ironically, they were originally intended to be a comfort feature, which is why they’re commonly called headrests. But pretty soon manufacturers realised their potential for reducing serious neck injury and invested a lot of research into improving them.

Unfortunately, what is optimum for whiplash prevention and for comfort isn’t always the same. We’ve road-tested a number of cars where the head restraint is literally a pain in the neck. Some manufacturers have approached this problem by designing them to deploy into a better head-protecting position in a crash but otherwise have a more comfortable shape.

Most head restraints are adjustable to some degree, and some even adjust automatically, but a lot of manufacturers still don’t seem to be very good at making them comfortable. Pay careful attention to this when buying a new car.

Make sure you adjust the head restraint so it’s above eye level, and if you share driving duties check the restraint adjustment every time you get in the car.

Seating

Poor posture puts drivers at risk. Passengers who sit with their feet on the dashboard, drivers who seat too closely to the steering wheel and anyone who sits with poor posture in a car are putting themselves at greater risk of serious injury if involved in a collision.

A study of occupant seating has found anecdotal evidence that many people are either sitting poorly or in positions that may add to their injuries in a crash.

If your feet were on the dashboard and a crash occurred that deployed a passenger airbag, it would inflate at high speeds, driving your legs back in toward your face or out away from your hips and knees dramatically increasing the severity of any injury.

Drivers sitting too close to steering wheels also increase the chances of a more severe injury from an airbag. They need to be at least 30cms from the steering wheel to give the airbag the chance to properly deploy and to give the seatbelt time to absorb any forward motion.

RACV safety tips for safe driving positions:

  • Each person is different so passengers should adjust their seatbelt and seating accordingly
  • Never put feet or knees on or against the dashboard
  • Always keep your hands and arms completely within the confines of the car
  • Drivers must have a clear view of the road and be able to reach the controls easily without being cramped
  • The distance from the steering wheel should be at least 30cm