Car safety is the avoidance of automobile accidents or the minimization of harmful effects of accidents, in particular as pertaining to human life and health. Special safety features have been built into cars for years, some for the safety of car's occupants only, some for the safety of others.
Road traffic injuries represent about 25% of worldwide injury-related deaths (the leading cause) with an estimated 1.26 million deaths in 2000 (Peden 2002).
Major factors in accidents include driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs; inattentive driving; 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 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 seatbelts 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.
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 has about 2 deaths per 10,000 motor vehicles, comparable to 1.9 in Germany, 2.6 in France, and 1.5 in the UK . In 1998 there were 3,421 fatal accidents in the UK, the fewest since 1926 .
A much higher number of accidents result in permanent disability.
A Swedish study found pink cars safest, with black cars most likely to be involved in crashes, and also showed Saab to be the "safest car in Sweden [In terms of passive safety]" (Land transport NZ 2005).
An Auckland, New Zealand study found a significantly lower risk of serious injury in silver cars; with high risks for brown, black, and green cars. (Furness et al, 2003).
This is probably a coincidence, however, because there has been no way to accurately connect automobiles' color with safer travel.
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 fetal outcome than properly restrained pregnant women" . 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. 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.
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.
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.
- Also see: Baby on Board
Toddlers over 1 year old and between 20 and 40 pounds (10 and 20 kg) should be placed in forward facing child seats or convertibles placed in the rear seat. Harness straps should be at or above the child's shoulders.
Children who weigh less than 80 pounds (40 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.
Most areas in the United States allow teenagers the right to drive at the age of 16. This age ranges in other countries but all teen drivers are relatively inexperienced compared to other drivers. This lack of experience leads to an increased risk of accidents among this demographic. Several resources are available to help teen drivers including TeenDriving.comand AutoExtra.com's kids first car tips and recommendations.
To make driving safer and prevent accidents from occurring, cars may have the following active safety features:
- Turn signals and brake lights, including Center High Mounted Stop Lamps (CHMSL)
- Anti-Lock braking system (ABS) (also Emergency Braking Assistance (EBA), often coupled with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), which prevents the brakes from locking and losing traction while braking. This shortens stopping distances in almost all cases.
- Inboard brakes allow large fade resistant discs or drums, without contributing to unsprung weight and wheel bounce, which degrade braking, handling and ride, and increase mechanical loads.
- Traction Control (TCS) actuates brakes or reduces throttle to restore traction if driven wheels begin to spin.
- Four wheel drive (AWD) with a center differential. Distributing power to all four wheels lessens the chances of wheel spin. It also suffers less from oversteer and understeer than front wheel drive, but more understeer than rear wheel drive.
- Reverse backup sensors, which alert drivers to nearby objects in their path, are installed in some high-end vehicles, but may also be purchased separately.
- Electronic Stability Control (ESC, also known by numerous manufacturer-specific names). Uses various sensors to intervene when the car senses a possible loss of control. The car's control unit can reduce power from the engine and even apply the brakes to prevent the car from understeering or oversteering.
- Dynamic steering response (DSR) corrects the rate of power steering system to adapt it to vehicle's speed and road conditions.
- Lateral Support : Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS).
- Directional headlights.
- Low center of gravity and other conventional features promoting good car handling and braking, and helping to avoid rollover.
- Large (relative to weight) high performance tires, suited to the weather and road conditions, contribute to braking and handling. Soft high histeresis rubber, tread and cord design are important.
- Visibility for the driver, mirrors, elimination of blind spots and possibly other awareness aids such as radar, wireless vehicle safety communications and night vision.
- Death Brake; there is a move to introduce deadman's braking into automotive application, primarily heavy vehicles, there may also be a need to add penalty switches to cruise controls.
- Four wheel steering gives, at the cost of mechanical complexity, quicker, more accurate manoeuvres at high speed and/or decreased turning circle at low speed. It may also help stability.
- Adaptive cruise control (ACC).
- AWAKE and intelligent car features.
When an accident is imminent, various passive safety systems work together to minimize damage to those 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) keep a person from being thrown forward or ejected from the vehicle.
- Bumpers to withstand low-speed collisions without damaging bodywork.
- Crumple zones absorb the energy of an impact when the car hits something
- Crash box to dissipate impact forces
- 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. Widely different height and body on rail frame design are particularly bad.
- 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.
- Light weight: the possible damage a vehicle can do to outside people and things is roughly proportional to its kinetic energy, which is its mass times the square of its speed.
- Active pedestrian protection systems.
- Aurora safety car (1957)
- Automated highway system
- Automobile design
- Car accident
- Driverless car
- Drop Stop
- Click It or Ticket
- Crash test dummy
- Defensive driving
- Driver distraction
- Intelligent car
- Lateral Support
- Management systems for road safety
- Motorcycle Safety
- Night vision
- Pedestrian Safety Through Vehicle Design
- Ray Tracing and CAVE, for car safety design using virtual reality.
- Road safety
- Risk compensation
- Safety car
- Smart car
- Tow truck
- Traffic psychology
- Traffic safety.
- Unsafe at Any Speed
- Vehicle Safety Site
- European safety ratings
-  (European vs US roof strength)
- American safety ratings
- National Transportation Safety Board. (USA)
- California Highway Patrol booster seat webpage
- safety equipment on new cars
- Vehicle Research Center
- Roll Cage
- Furness, Sue, J Connor, E Robinson, R Norton, S Ameratunga, R Jackson 2003-12-20colour and risk of car crash injury: population based case control study.|work=British Medical Journal 327:1455-1456|publisher=BMJ Publishing Group
- 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. Retrieved on 2006-01-01
- The injury chart book: a graphical overview of the global burden of injuries. Peden M, McGee K, Sharma G. PDF. Geneva, World Health Organization. Retrieved on 2006-01-01. ISBN 924156220X
- Physics Today, January 2006, "Vehicle Design and the Physics of Traffic Safety"