Automobile safety

Automobile safety is the avoidance of automobile accidents or the minimization of harmful effects of accidents, in particular as pertaining to human life and health. Numerous safety features have been built into cars for years, some for the safety of car's occupants only, some for the safety of others.

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Distance covered by vehicles in one second.
Road traffic injuries represent about 25% of worldwide injury-related deaths (the leading cause) with an estimated 1.2 million deaths (2004) each year - World Health Organization [1]).

Major factors in accidents include driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs; inattentive driving; crash compatibility between vehicles; driving while fatigued or unconscious; encounters with road hazards such as snow, potholes, and crossing animals; or reckless driving.


Car safety became an issue almost immediately after the invention of the automobile, when Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot crashed his steam-powered "Fardier" against a wall in 1771. One of the earliest recorded automobile fatalities was Mary Ward, on August 31, 1869 in Parsonstown, Ireland.

In the 1930s, plastic surgeon Claire L. Straith and physician C. J. Strickland advocated the use of seatbelts and padded dashboards. Strickland founded the Automobile Safety League of America [2][3].

In 1934 GM performed the first barrier Crash test [4].

In the 1940s SAAB incorporated aircraft safety thinking into automobiles making the Saab 92 the first production car first with a safety cage[5]. In fact Volvo introduced the Safety Cage in 1944 (while Saab did in 1949).[6]

In 1942 Hugh De Haven published the classic Mechanical analysis of survival in falls from heights of fifty to one hundred and fifty feet [7]

In the 1950's, Mercedes-Benz extensively crash tested prototypes. [8].

In 1958, the United Nations established the World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations, an international standards body advancing auto safety. Many of the most life saving safety innovations, like seat belts and roll cage construction were brought to market under its auspices.

In 1966, the US established the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) with automobile safety one of its purposes. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was created as an independent organization on April 1, 1967, but was reliant on the DOT for administration and funding. However, in 1975 the organization was made completely independent by the Independent Safety Board Act (in 93-633; 49 U.S.C. 1901).

The NTSB and its European equivalent, EuroNCAP have each issued independent safety tests for all new automobiles, without reciprocity.

In June, 2004 the NTSB released new tests designed to test the rollover risk of new cars and SUVs. Only the Mazda RX-8 got a 5-star rating. However, the correlation between official crash test results and road deaths in vehicles is not exact. An alternative method of assessing vehicle safety is to study the road accident statistics on a model-by-model basis.

Despite technological advances, the death toll of car accidents remains high: about 40,000 people die every year in the US. While this number increases annually in line with rising population and increased travel, the rate per capita and per vehicle miles travelled decreases. In 1996 the US had about 2 deaths per 10,000 motor vehicles, comparable to 1.9 in Germany, 2.6 in France, and 1.5 in the UK [9]. In 1998 there were 3,421 fatal accidents in the UK, the fewest since 1926 [10].

A much higher number of accidents result in permanent disability.


A Swedish study found that pink cars are involved in the fewest accidents, with black cars being most often involved in crashes. This test also showed Saab to be the "safest car in Sweden [In terms of passive safety]" (Land transport NZ 2005).

In Auckland New Zealand, a study found that there was a significantly lower rate of serious injury in silver cars; with higher rates in brown, black, and green cars. (Furness et al, 2003)

Passenger safety when driving

Pregnant women

When pregnant, women should continue to use seatbelts and airbags properly. A University of Michigan study found that "unrestrained or improperly restrained pregnant women are 5.7 times more likely to have an adverse foetal outcome than properly restrained pregnant women" [1]. If seatbelts are not long enough, extensions are available from the car manufacturer or an aftermarket supplier.


Car safety is especially critical for young children, as car safety is generally designed for normal sized adults. Safety features that could save an adult can actually cause more damage to a child than if the feature was not there. It is important to review with others, who may be supervising the child, the rules for car safety. All children age 12 and under should ride in the back seat. Also children weighing less than 85 lb (40 kg) should be in the back seat. This is especially the case if there are airbags in the front seat, as airbags are only designed to protect adults and may injure children. That is not just an opinion but is also law in many of the U.S. states and other countries. The Center for Injury Research and Prevention at The Children's Hospital Of Philadelphia has developed a website for parents and caregivers with extensive information about transporting children safely in automobiles.

Child safety locks prevent children from accidentally opening doors from inside the vehicle, even if the door is unlocked. The door, once unlocked, can then be opened only from the outside. To find out more about laws relating to children car safety contact your local department of transportation authority.


Newborn babies should be put in a car seat until they weigh at least 20 or 22 pounds (10 or 11 kg). These carriers are designed to be placed in the rear seat and face towards the rear with the baby looking towards the back window. Some of these carriers are "Convertibles" which can also be used forward facing for older children. With infants, these should only be used facing the rear. Harness straps should be at or below shoulder level.

A rear-facing infant restraint must never be put in the front seat of a vehicle with a front passenger air bag. A rear-facing infant restraint places an infant's head close to the air bag module, which can cause severe head injuries or death if the air bag deploys. Modern cars include a switch to turn off the airbag system of the passenger seat, in which case a child-supporting seat must be installed.


Toddlers over 1 year old and between 10 and 20 kg (20 and 40 pounds) should be placed in rearward facing child seats or convertibles placed in the rear seat. Harness straps should be at or above the child's shoulders. In Scandinavia the recommendation is to use rearward facing seats up to the age of 4 or 5 (size of seat permitting), and in Scandinavia you will find very few children under the age of 4 facing forward.

Young children

Children who weigh less than 80 pounds (35 kg), are younger than 8, or are shorter than 4 ft 9 in (1.4 m) are advised to use belt positioning booster seats which raise them to a level that allows seat belts to work effectively. These seats are forward facing and must be used with both lap and shoulder belts.

Make sure the lap belt fits low and tight across the lap/upper thigh area and the shoulder belt fits snug crossing the chest and shoulder to avoid abdominal injuries.

There are two main types of booster seats. If the car's back seat is lower than the child's ears, a high back booster seat should be used to help protect the child's head and neck. If the car's seat back is higher than the child's ears, a backless booster seat can be used.

Teenage Drivers

Most areas in the United States will issue a full driver's license at the age of 16, and all within a range between 14 and 18 [2]. In addition to being relatively inexperienced, teen drivers are also cognitively immature, compared to other drivers. This combination leads to an increased risk of accidents among this demographic. [11].

Safety dangers

Main safety dangers for automobiles are the wind (maintaining the direction) and the rain.

Other safety dangers include drunk driving, driving when fatigued or unconscious, or driving with distractions inside the car.

Driving while talking on your cell phone can be exceptionally hazardus, due to the fact that you are taking your mind off driving, even with hands free items, such as bluetooth headsets.

Safety features

Active safety refers to systems in a vehicle which utilize feedback, using information about a car's external environment to change the response of the vehicle and improve the safety of the vehicle in the pre-crash time period, or during the crash event.

Passive safety refers to built-in features of the vehicle such as crumple zones, seatbelts, and airbags, which work passively to prevent injury and do not change their action in response to crash scenario or severity.

Active safety

To make driving safer and prevent crashes from occurring, and also to better protect occupants during a crash, cars may have the following active safety features:

Passive safety

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Ferrari F430 drivers steering wheel with airbag.
When a crash is imminent, various passive safety systems work together to minimize injury to the individuals involved. Much research has been done using crash test dummies to make modern cars safer than ever. Recently, attention has also been given to cars' design regarding the safety of pedestrians in car-pedestrian collisions. Controversial proposals in Europe would require cars sold there to have a minimum/maximum hood height. This has caused automakers to complain that the requirements will restrict their design choices, resulting in ugly cars. Others have pointed out that a notable percentage of pedestrians in these accidents are drunk. From 2006 the use of "bull bars" (known as "roo bars" in Australia), in fashion on 4x4s and SUVs, will be illegal.
  • Seatbelts (or safety belts) absorb energy and limit forward motion of an occupant, and help keep occupants from being ejected from the vehicle.
  • Airbags: There are many types of airbags, all of which should be considered supplemental restraint systems (SRS), used in addition to belts.
  • Front airbags inflate in a medium speed head on collision to cushion the impact of the head to the steering wheel (driver) or dashboard to the (front passenger) .
  • Side airbags inflate in a side impact (T-bone) collision to cushion the torso and sometimes the pelvis and head.
  • Curtain airbags protect the head and upper body of passengers in a side collision. Newer models may stay inflated for a longer period of time, and may help to keep unbelted occupants in vehicle during a rollover, but should be considered supplemental to belts and never used in place of belts.
  • Knee airbags inflate in frontal impact collisions to protect the driver's knees and are now available in many newer high end model vehicles.
  • Crumple zone technology absorbs the energy of a collision by displacing the impact of a crash and diverting it from the internal (passenger compartment) critical structure of the vehicle.
  • Side impact bars for protection against side on collisions
  • Collapsible steering column, sometimes provided with steel sheet bellows.
  • Crash compatibility can be improved by matching vehicles by weight and by matching crumple zones with points of structural rigidity, particularly for side-on collisions. Some pairs of vehicle front end structures interact better than others in crashes.
  • Cage construction is designed to protect vehicle occupants. Some racing vehicles have a tubular roll cage
  • Reinforced side door structural members
  • Fuel pump shutoff devices turn off gas flow in the event of a collision for the purpose of preventing gasoline fires.
  • Active pedestrian protection systems
  • Driver State Sensor - Research, Utilizing cutting edge video processing technology, the system remotely and unobtrusively measures 3D head pose and eyelid motion parameters of the driver.
  • Padding of the instrument panel and other interior parts of the vehicle likely to be struck by the occupants during a crash. Whilst largely being supplanted by airbags, it still plays an important role in preventing injuries.

See also


  • Furness, Sue, J Connor, E Robinson, R Norton, S Ameratunga, R Jackson (2003-12-20). Car colour and risk of car crash injury: population based case control study.. British Medical Journal 327:1455-1456. BMJ Publishing Group. Retrieved on 2006-01-01.
  • IEEE Communications Magazine, April 2005, "Ad Hoc Peer-to-Peer Network Architecture for Vehicle Safety Communications"
  • IEEE Communications Magazine, April 2005, "The Application-Based Clustering Concept and Requirements for Intervehicle Networks"
  • Safe vehicle colours.. Land transport NZ (2005). Retrieved on 2006-01-01.
  • Peden M, McGee K, Sharma G. (2002). The injury chart book: a graphical overview of the global burden of injuries. (PDF). Geneva, World Health Organization. Retrieved on 2006-01-01. ISBN 92-4-156220-X
  • Physics Today, January 2006, "Vehicle Design and the Physics of Traffic Safety"
  • Evans, Leonard (2004). Traffic Safety. Science Serving Society. ISBN 0975487108. 

External links

Passive nuclear safety describes a safety feature of a nuclear reactor that does not require operator action or electronic feedback in order to shut down safely in the event of a particular type of emergency (usually overheating resulting from a loss of coolant or loss of coolant
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car accident or car crash is an incident in which an automobile collides with anything that causes damage to the automobile, including other automobiles, telephone poles, buildings or trees, or in which the driver loses control of the vehicle and damages it in some other
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CAR is a three-letter acronym that can stand for:
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Drunk driving is the act of operating and/or driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs to the degree that mental and motor skills are impaired. It is illegal in all jurisdictions within the U.S.
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Recreational drug use is the use of psychoactive drugs for recreational purposes rather than for work, medical or spiritual purposes, although the distinction is not always clear.
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Crash incompatibility, crash compatibility, vehicle incompatibility, and vehicle compatibility are terms in the automobile crash testing industry. They refer to the tendency of some vehicles to inflict more damage on another vehicle (the "crash partner
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Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot (26 February, 1725 – 2 October, 1804) was a French inventor. He is believed to have built the first self-propelled mechanical vehicle or automobile.
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Mary Ward had the misfortune to fall under the wheels of an experimental steam car built by her cousins. This happened on 31 August, 1869, and may make her the earliest motor vehicle accident victim.
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Birr (Biorra in Irish) is a town in the Midlands county of Offaly in the Republic of Ireland. Once called Parsonstown, after the Parsons family who were local landowners and hereditary Earls of Rosse, Birr is situated at the meeting of the Camcor and Little Brosna rivers.
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Claire L. Straith (1891-1958) was an American plastic surgeon.

Dr. Straith was a pioneer of Automobile safety. He described the cranial and facial injuries created by the dashboards and windshields in case of a car crash and advocated the use of seat belts [1]
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General Motors Corporation

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crash test is a form of destructive testing usually performed in order to ensure safe design standards in crash compatibility for automobiles or related components.


  • Frontal-Impact Tests

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Saab 92 is an automobile from Saab (not to be confused with the Saab 9-2X). The design was very aerodynamic for its time, and the cW value (drag coefficient) was 0.30 (the same as a Porsche 996 and better than the Ferrari F40).
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Hugh De Haven was an American pilot, engineer and passive safety pioneer. De Haven survived a plane crash during the First World War [1]. He tried to understand why he survived that crash [2]
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The World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations is a working party of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). It is tasked with creating a uniform set of regulations for vehicle design to aid global trade.
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International or internationally most often describes interaction between nations, or encompassing two or more nations, constituting a group or association having members in two or more nations, or generally reaching beyond national boundaries.
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seat belt, sometimes called a safety belt, is a safety harness designed to secure the occupant of a vehicle against harmful movement that may result from a collision or a sudden stop.
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roll cage is a specially constructed frame built in or around the cab of a vehicle to protect the occupants from being injured in an accident, particularly in the event of a roll-over. Roll cages are used in nearly all purpose-built racecars, and in most cars modified for racing.
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