Safety Equipment


Air Bags and Seat Belts, When Used Properly, Save Lives (NSC Fact Sheet, 2001)

Head Restraints and Safer Seats

Remarkably few people know how to adjust their head restraint. Some even think that new cars are delivered with the head restraints already in the optimal position, but nothing could be further from the truth. It is very important that all of your family learn the correct way to set a head restraint if they are to minimize the risk of serious and potentially paralyzing injuries.

The height is the most obvious factor and there are two equally effective ways of getting this correct: either the  head restraint should be raised or lowered until the top of it is level with the top of the user’s head or, when that person leans his/her head back, the first point of contact between their head and the head restraint should be no lower than the level of that person’s eyes. Secondly, and just as importantly, the gap between the back of the user’s head and the front surface of the head restraint should be no more than four inches (ten centimeters) when the person is sitting normally. Both of these settings are important factors in avoiding or reducing the severity of ‘whiplash’ injuries. (See the Volvo and Saab links, below.)

The following illustration is reproduced, with permission, from the IIHS Status Report, Vol. 38 No. 9, September 2003 and clearly shows the safest zone in which to set your head restraint. (For those not conversant with centimeters, 2½cm equal one inch, so the top edge of the head restraint must be no more than two inches below the highest point of the head and, when you are sitting normally, the gap between the back of your head and the front of the head restraint must be no more than three inches.)



The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) commissioned a study to assess whether drivers are adjusting their vehicle headrests properly. The results are being used to increase public awareness and education about the ideal adjustment for headrests, in order to decrease the number and severity of soft tissue injuries relating to whiplash. Where this research actually took place is irrelevant, the results are of great importance to all drivers, worldwide.

Report from the NHTSA:  Effects of Head Restraint Position on Neck Injury in Rear Impact

The Volvo ‘WHIPS’ Whiplash Protection System scores the highest rating for the prevention of neck and spinal injuries.

The Saab Active Head Restraint Reduces Neck Injury (Press Release)

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has a web page about whiplash.

 High Intensity Rear Fog Lights

In Europe it is now standard to have a matched pair of high-intensity, red rear lights on new cars and these are immensely useful for conspicuity and therefore safety in conditions of fog, falling snow or heavy rain/spray because

the car can be made visible, from the rear, for a much greater distance. In the USA, unfortunately, legislators have come to ill-informed and unwise decisions in that either only one such light is permitted on any vehicle, or if a pair are fitted they are of considerably lower brightness. The first of these options means that although one red light is visible there is no ‘point of reference’ from which a following driver, in really bad visibility, can gauge how far behind he is. The American argument would appear to be that a matched pair of high-intensity lights may be mistaken for brake lights, but the answer to this is: So what? Greater conspicuity in bad weather can save lives; rear lights being mistaken for brake lights do notcost lives.

Also see:     DSA test drive of a Renault Laguna 2.2 dCi (UK, 2005) which has a photograph of “rear fogs” in use.

                   DSA article ‘The Red Light District’ about “rear fogs” and the color of indicator lights.

                   DSA article ‘Driving in Bad Weather

 Seat Belts

  ‘Seatbelts: Why You Should Use Them’ is quite a good article from the Oklahoma State University.

 Benefits of Seat Belt Reminder Systems – a report from the Australian Traffic Safety Bureau

Stability Control

Rollover crashes cost over ten thousand lives a year on America’s roads and SUVs are notoriously dangerous in this respect.  The National Transportation Safety Board heard evidence on June 3, 2003, that a promising auto safety feature could dramatically reduce the likelihood of vehicle rollovers. Stability control, which sells for $500 to $1,000, is on about 5% of cars sold in the USA, compared with 50% in Europe. Studies show that if it were on all vehicles, stability control could prevent up to 8,000 deaths a year. (Source: USA Today)


In terms of safety, tires are often a neglected feature and yet it should go without saying that the four small areas of rubber that are in contact with the ground are fundamentally vital to safety in almost every situation.

In the USA, the Department of Transport (USDOT) announced Comparative Ratings for Passenger Vehicle Tires, on February 12, 2004. The document contains important information on how to understand quality of tires, by means of grades in three categories: temperature, traction and treadwear.

  Dec 17, 2004: Lawsuits Over Tire-Tread Separations Gain Momentum

Tires 6 years old or more are a danger, regardless of mileage, actions allege

     Auto accidents allegedly caused by tire-tread separations are sparking lawsuits across the country, with plaintiffs charging that tire manufacturers are selling tires without warning consumers of the potential risk when the tires get older….

     The lawsuits allege that tires older than 6 years — even if never used — could cause fatal accidents due to the degradation of the chemical adhesive that bonds tire treads to tires….

     Manufacturers are aware of the potential dangers of old tires, alleged Danko, citing European tire manufacturers’ recommendation that tires older than 6 years be replaced, regardless of the condition of the tire treads.

Read the full, important article here, from

  November 8, 2004:  Safety group seeks tire expiration date

     Older tires with very little wear are called an ‘invisible hazard’ and blamed for 37 deaths.

WASHINGTON – A consumer safety group is petitioning the federal government to require easy-to-read “born-on” dates for car and truck tires, citing 50 crashes resulting in 37 fatalities caused by older tires with very little wear and tear….

     According to Sean Kane, president of SRS, tire performance can start to degrade after six years – even if the tires have not been used – because of the rubber’s age.

     “It’s an invisible hazard,” Kane said. “The industry knows a lot about it, and they have recommendations that they’ve hidden from the public for years. Just about every other product, from food to paint, has an expiration date on it.”

     In many of the accidents documented by SRS, tires with little wear in the tread suddenly failed….

     The Tyre Industry Council, a nonprofit organization in the United Kingdom that is funded by the tire industry and tire retailers to promote tire safety among consumers, warned in 2003 that motorists should replace tires that were more than 10 years old, regardless of wear.

     The council said tire components dry with age and can separate. Anti-aging chemicals in tires are active only when a tire is in use, the council said. The council went on to say that spare tires, tires in storage or on a shelf, or tires that spend a long time on a trailer or a recreational vehicle run the risk of premature aging.

     In the United States, consumers and tire dealers must decipher part of a serial number engraved on one side of a tire to determine the date it was manufactured. But there are no set recommendations on how old is too old for a tire….

Read this full, important article here, from the Detroit News

June, 2004:  Tread Depth and Tire Safety

     A recent series of tests conducted for The British Rubber Manufacturers Association by MIRA has shown that the stopping distance significantly increases and cornering performance deteriorates when tyre tread depth falls below 3mm (0.12 inches).

     Given that the current, UK legal minimum tread depth is 1.6mm, when the tyre is only performing at 60% of its full potential, safety professionals need to be aware of these findings.
[Source: Roadsafe, June 2004]