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Improving road safety: crash protection for vehicle occupants

In support of Brake Road Safety Week, we’re highlighting numerous ways that innovations in technology can help to improve road safety. Road safety technology in vehicles is evolving at a rapid pace, and there are an increasing number of systems that aim to improve vehicle and driver safety by either reducing the risk of an accident, or increasing protection in the event of a crash.

While it’s important to take full advantage of road safety innovations which reduce the chance of an accident, unfortunately road traffic accidents (RTAs) are unlikely to ever be totally eradicated. Even if you’re the most careful driver and your vehicle is fitted with the latest in road safety technology, unfortunately the actions of other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians are unpredictable and this could still result in you being involved in an accident.

Fortunately, there are many in-vehicle devices that can help ensure crash protection for occupants is at its highest standard…

Active head restraints are triggered by impact sensors and come into action in the event of a rear end crash. The restraint, which is built into the headrest of a vehicle seat, automatically moves towards the driver or passenger’s head to reduce the distance between the head and headrest. This creates greater support for the head and neck, prevents overstretching of the neck vertebrae and reduces the risk of injury. According to a Brake Road Safety Week factsheet, “US research shows that SAAB’s active head restraints reduce serious neck injury to front seat occupants in a rear end collision by up to 75%.”

Seatbelts are one of the simplest and most important features for protection inside a vehicle and according to The Handbook of Road Safety Measures, using a seatbelt with a strap across your lap and chest reduces the chance of fatality by 50%. Lap belts (just one strap across your lap) are not as safe in the event of an accident, as severe injury could occur from the top half of the body being thrown forward. The seatbelt re-tensioner works by tightening and reducing slack in seat belts, to protect occupants from rapidly moving forward in the event of a crash.

Seat Belt Reminders (SBR) have been compulsory in Europe in the driver’s seat of new cars since November 2014. The devices detect the presence of an occupant and give an audible and/or visual warning if they’re not wearing a seat belt. There are research papers* agreeing that SBRs have the proven potential to increase the seat belt wearing rate (and in turn reduce casualty rates) and The Future of Transport has recommended seat belt reminder systems to be fitted to more seats (including passengers) in more vehicles.

Along with seatbelts, airbags are another common form of in-vehicle protection. Front and torso airbags are designed to mitigate head and chest injury, providing particular protection to the driver from the steering column and wheel. There are also knee airbags available, which help prevent femur and pelvic fractures; airbags in the base of seats, that keep the occupant tightly within their seat belt; and seat belt air bags, that distribute forces over a wider area on your body, lowering the risk of localised force causing broken bones and injury to internal organs. Toyota has even developed a Supplemental Restraint System, which is a back-seat airbag, to help reduce the severity of injuries sustained by back-seat passengers as a result of side-on collisions.

Click here to read about how crash protection for people outside the vehicle can help to improve road safety.