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Choosing the safest car

Safety and crash protection should be a primary concern when choosing a car. A good, safe car should be well-designed to minimise the damage to occupants in the event of an accident. There is also technology available which is said to even help you avoid an impact in the first place.

Is it a star?

Consumer organisations hail the hugely influential Euro NCAP (New Car Assessment Programme) as the ´gold standard´. These intensive crash tests rate a car for its performance in frontal, rear and side impacts, the protection it would offer both adult and child occupants, its risk to pedestrians, the protection its seats give against ´whiplash´ injuries to neck and spine and its systems to help you avoid a crash. Increasing numbers of new cars now achieve a five-star result in the test, but Euro NCAP distinguishes between them and identifies their strengths and weaknesses.

The crucial factors in crash protection are said to include crumple zones (the way the structure or panels would ´fold´ in a crash) and safety cells (a rigid structure around the passenger compartment), as well as the deformation characteristics of items such as dashboards and steering wheels, which could come into contact with the car´s occupants. All these details are assessed by Euro NCAP, though there are other important surveys too, including extensive work in Sweden looking at the outcomes of ´real life´ accidents. The British motor insurers´ research centre, Thatcham, also rates car seats for protection against whiplash injuries.

Bags and belts

Modern cars are mostly well-equipped with an extensive count of airbags. Tucked away behind the dashboard, into the ceiling or even into the steering column to protect a driver´s knees, these deploy pyrotechnics to cushion you in the event of a crash. Side airbags and head-protecting ´curtain´ airbags often add to the price of a car, but are thought to offer enhanced crash protection.

According to road safety website THINK you are twice as likely to die in a crash if you don´t wear a seatbelt. Wearing a seat belt is therefore not only a legal requirement, but also imperative for your safety. Technology has been developed which is said to help make seat belts even safer, by reducing the chance of injuries on impact. Some seat belts come equipped with ´pre-tensioners´ and load lim-iters. Pre-tensioners tighten the belt during the first milliseconds of a crash, and are said to provide much better restraint, whilst load limiters allow some forward movement and limit the forces on the chest during an impact.

As standard, all cars should have proper three-point seatbelts, and any child seats used should be correctly and securely fitted. It could also be a good idea to look for a car with ISOFIX universal an-choring points, which are said to provide added security for your child seat. And though tests consis-tently find that children of all ages are safer in the rear seats of a car, if you must carry a child up front, you need to be able to deactivate the passenger-seat airbag, as airbags can cause injury to small children.

Accident avoidance

Driving safely and avoiding taking risks can help significantly reduce the likelihood of having an accident. However, despite taking all measures possible to be safe, accidents can still happen. It could therefore be a good idea to think about what technology could help in the event of something going wrong. ABS (anti-lock) brakes are now fitted in all new cars sold in the EU, but you could also look for electronic stability control (ESC, ESP), especially if you´re buying a high-riding SUV or people-carrier, this is well-acknowledged as a life-saver.

Increasing numbers of new cars are also available with advanced automatic braking systems, adaptive cruise control (maintaining your distance from the car in front), blind spot monitoring and crash-sensing warning systems. Make sure you understand what each system does and how it works and don´t rely on it to keep you out of trouble. There´s still no electronic substitute for good road awareness, for keeping your view clear out of your windscreens and windows, and for using your rear-view mirrors.

And however old or well-equipped your car, it´s also crucial to keep it well-maintained. Worn tyres will seriously affect your stopping distances, and make sure your brakes are in tip-condition too. Check your levels of brake and power steering fluid regularly to ensure that your car will stop and steer properly. But some accidents will always be unavoidable so your other vital choice is a car insurance policy which could provide adequate cover to meet your needs if the worst does happen.

Issued by Sainsbury´s Finance

published: 08/09/2011

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