Driving offers us a lot of freedom in our everyday lives. From the weekly food shopping to visiting relatives, the car means we can achieve more every day than would have been possible a couple of hundred years ago.
With that convenience comes responsibility. I always remember my grandmother referring to my first car as a killing machine, which at the time seemed over dramatic. Over the years I’ve come to realise that she was right though, not that I’ve had any serious accidents myself. It’s about keeping the vehicle in optimal condition, not just becoming reliant on the annual MOT test declaring it roadworthy.
There’s a lot of things to learn about how cars work, and to be sure that you’re doing everything you can to stay safe on the road, you need to familiarise yourself with them.
Important Safety Features for Cars
Constantly evolving vehicle technologies have created the necessity for more advanced car safety features than earlier vehicles of years gone by. As our cars become more efficient, they also have to be safer. Shatter resistant glass, anti-lock brakes (ABS), and automatic limited-slip differential all represent advancements that have helped save thousands of lives and hundreds of accidents each year. A car’s windscreen is the front face that protects the driver and passengers from flying objects, wind, rain, etc. The windscreen is also important for side impact protection and structural integrity.
New car safety features can also include automatic and manual seatbelts, which keep the passengers properly restrained in case of an accident. New technology has created an anti-lock braking system (ABS) that allows the driver to manually control the brakes when it’s necessary. The ABS system on the other hand cannot be activated unless the driver is sitting properly. Additionally, anti-lock brakes with electronic assist helps drivers avoid skidding when travelling at high speeds.
New car safety features also include air bags that help protect the passenger and the driver. Air bags are designed to provide proper protection in the event of an accident and are meant to be used in certain situations only. When the air bag inflates, it pushes up and out of its storage area and the driver and passenger are more protected by an air cushion.
Collision Avoidance Systems
Another of the newer safety features is collision avoidance, which uses the vehicle’s electronics similar to anti-theft systems to monitor the front, side, and rear of a vehicle for any potential collisions. The collision avoidance system detects obstacles, hazards, and other objects in the road that can impact the vehicle and activate the air bags.
New car safety features also include automatic emergency braking and forward-collision warnings which are variations on the above additions. These two features help drivers avoid accidents by applying the breaks automatically when they hit objects or when they collide with other vehicles. Automatic emergency braking provides up to 4 extra steering and braking forces to the driver in case of a crash, while forward-collision warning helps a driver to take evasive action when he is in danger of hitting a vehicle ahead.
Smartphone Apps & Insurance
New car safety features that require drivers to download and install special programs and devices are also important safety features. Most insurers have an option that are designed for younger drivers to download the a mobile device or program that allows them to track their vehicle speeds and the speed at which they are travelling on a specific road and in return can qualify for lower premiums.
Do Not Disturb
On the subject of phones, do not disturb modes have been introduced to reduce distractions when on the road. This is especially important for motorists who use cell phones to communicate with other drivers while driving. Installing the device is the most effective way to avoid traffic violations, which can result in substantial fines.
Seatbelts & Car Seats
Standard seatbelts are important safety features for adults and children alike. While many of us are familiar with their use, too many drivers still fail to get especially designed seats for younger infants. These seat belts are made out of sturdy materials that can withstand impacts originating from outside of the vehicle. Additionally, most vehicle seats have a framework that supports the infant’s head and torso in the event of a crash, and have special attachments called ISOFIX to become part of the car itself.
Regular Maintenance Schedule
In addition to the features of the car keeping you safe, you also need to be mindful that regular maintenance is important too.
Oil is essential to keeping the engine running smoothly, and the dip stick is there to help you assess how much is available to be used by the car. You need to take the reading on level ground, so park somewhere flat, allow time for the engine to cool if you’ve driven a considerable distance and lift the bonnet. the dipstick pulls out from a tube, sometimes referred to as its sheath.
It’s a good idea to use a rag to completely clean the stick, then replace it back into the tube, before pulling it out again to take the reading. That ensures accuracy, and you’re looking for a reading between the minimum and maximum marker. If the reading is close to the minimum, or worse still below it, you need to add a little oil until the reading increases towards (but not beyond) the maximum.
No all oils are the same, so check your car’s manual to find out which grade you need. Your local car garage should be able to help if you’re unsure.
Tyres need to be changed once they become severely worn. In the UK, you’re required to have a minimum of 1.6mm of tread remaining across the tyre in order to be driving legally. That’s roughly the same as the border section of a 20p coin, but it’s better to use a proper tread checking device or take your car to a tyre expert to check for you. Most outlets will do this free of charge.
Also relating to tyres, the amount of air in them is important. Soft tyres mean you use more fuel than necessary and the tread depth deteriorates more quickly. Over inflated tyres have the opposite effect, but also mean stopping distances might be impacted when braking. Due to these two factors, it’s wise to regularly check your vehicle’s air pressure because of both safety and fuel efficiency.
The traditional way to do that is to use the machine when you stop to refuel, or ask a mechanic to check it for you. More recently, though, it’s more common for motorists to carry around their own device called a tyre inflator. The name is slightly misleading, as they also check pressure as well as add air, as you can see here.
Be Alert While Driving
As a final note, you have a responsibility as a driver to make sure that you’re in good shape to be driving. There are three golden rules here knows and the three dont’s – don’t be sleepy, don’t drink and drive and don’t be hungry!
Never Drive Tired
There are countless accidents on the roads every year as a result of people driving when they’re far too tired to be safe at the wheel. There’s a concept called a micro sleep, where people (including drivers) have a short lapse of concentration and even consciousness due to excessive fatigue. When driving this can be catastrophic, potentially resulting in a fatal accident. Remember that fatal doesn’t just involve you, it could easily be another driver, passenger, pedestrian or other innocent bystander that falls victim to a driver’s sleepiness.
Never Drink And Drive
Around Christmas every year we see police forces across the country step up their roadside breath testing, checking for drivers that have consumed alcohol or other drugs and shouldn’t be at the wheel. If you’re caught driving under the influence, the consequences can be devastating.
Remember too that if you drink heavily, you’ll almost certainly still have alcohol detectable in your body the next morning. The general rule of thumb that’s banded about is an hour for each unit of alcohol to wear off, plus an hour for good measure (excuse the pun). With that said, it’s not by any means a reliable way to be sure you’re safe to drive, so it’s far better to drink less the night before, or not drive the following morning. Taxis and buses are great friends of the hangover.
Employers often sack people convicted of drink driving (regardless of whether it’s right or legal), drivers almost always lose their licence, and when they eventually get it back insurance premiums are multiple times higher.
Those aren’t the most compelling reasons though, alcohol prevents you from driving safely, and the chances of injuring or killing someone rises dramatically. I told you my grandmother was right, didn’t I?
Eat Before Driving
In particular, if you’re driving for a considerable period, make sure you’re not feeling the need to eat when you set off. Hungry drivers are ‘hangry’ drivers, and road rage benefits no-one. Accidents become more likely and you’re more likely to get stressed at the wheel. We’re not saying you need a three course meal before you travel, that would likely cause tiredness, but a light meal like a sandwich or a snack like soup can make a lot of difference to staying calm and alert at the wheel.
As we’ve discussed here at great length, there’s a lot that goes into staying safe on the road, and it’s several factors coming together that bring the highest levels of safety for drivers and those around them. Vehicle makers go to a lot of effort with technological advancements, but there’s also the need to follow regular maintenance routines and of course be a good, considerate and fit-to-drive motorist too.