Toolkit: Vehicle Equipment, Design and Maintenance

Advanced technological improvements and structural changes have made today's vehicles safer than ever. Equipment such as seat belts, child restraints and air bags all are proven ways to reduce crashes and save lives. Proper vehicle maintenance also helps save lives. Each of these aspects requires one important element - in order to be effective, individuals must make proper use of them.

Many manufacturers are designing vehicles with crash protection and safety features that exceed the minimum federal safety standards. Compare safety features and know how each works before you buy. For more information on vehicle safety ratings, go to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Web site at www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

Key questions to ask when looking to buy a vehicle are:

  • How well will this vehicle protect people during a crash?
  • What features does this vehicle have that help avoid a crash?
  • Does this vehicle have enough seat belts for all the passengers who will be riding in the vehicle?

Many features have impacted vehicle safety:

Air Bags

  • Front and side air bags along with the seat belts are highly effective in reducing fatalities in moderate and high-speed frontal and side impact crashes.
  • Air bags do not eliminate the need for seat belts and they are not designed to offer protection in rollovers, rear, or side impacts.
  • Air bags have caused fatalities to unbelted occupants, occupants too close to the air bag when it deploys, and out-of-position children in low speed crashes.
  • Redesigned air bags are less aggressive, but not less effective. Women and young children are now at less risk of serious injury.
  • Air bag warning labels are important. They advise occupants to keep about 10 inches or more between the body and steering wheel and to never place a rear-facing infant seat in front of an air bag, even a reduced-power air bag.

Air Bag On-Off Switches

  • The "On-off switch" is an additional consumer safety feature that can deactivate the driver or passenger air bags for occupants fitting certain risk profiles.

Seat Belts

  • Research has found that lap/shoulder seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50 percent. (2007 NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts.)
  • For light truck occupants, seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury by 60 percent and moderate-to-critical injury by 65 percent. (2007 NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts)
  • Features such as adjustable upper belts; seat belt ┬ápretensioners; energy management features; integrated seat-belt systems and rear center seat lap/shoulder belts have improved seat belt performance.

Anti-lock Brake Systems

  • These systems prevent a vehicle's wheels from locking during "panic" braking and allow the driver to maintain greater steering control. But drivers must operate them correctly by "stomping and steering" rather than pumping them.

Head Restraints

  • These are extensions of the vehicle's seats that limit head movement during a rear impact, thus reducing the probability of neck injury.

Automatic-Dimming Rearview Mirrors

  • These mirrors automatically darken to reduce headlight glare.

Vehicle Maintenance Plays an Important Role in Occupant Protection

  • Vehicle maintenance is critical in maintaining optimum performance of any vehicle. Check the owner's manual and adhere to suggested scheduled maintenance.

Some general maintenance tips include:

  • Check your tires for proper inflation pressure, tread wear and alignment;
  • Winterize your vehicle in the fall if you live in a cold climate;
  • Replace worn windshield wipers or any burned out lights;

If your vehicle does break down on the road, be prepared: always have an emergency kit containing at least the following items: a flashlight with extra batteries; warning devices such as flares or reflective triangles; jumper cables; and a first-aid kit. Also take along some bottled water for trips that involve traveling through isolated areas. This is especially important during the summer months and in hot climates.