Modern cars are designed to protect occupants in a crash. Some cars are much better at this than others. In a well-designed car, all of the different safety systems work together to keep the driver and passengers safe in different crash situations. Together these safety systems make up the occupant protection system:
A car must have a strong structure to absorb crash energy while keeping the passenger compartment intact.
In frontal, rear and offset (those occurring at an angle) crashes, modern vehicles protect occupants by absorbing crash energy and reducing the forces to which you're exposed. This is because the front and rear sections crumple in a controlled and progressive manner, allowing the occupant compartment to decelerate more slowly. The deceleration means less force passes on to you and injury is less likely.
Safety belts are a necessary safety fixture in a car. Many modern safety belts have pretensioners. These tighten the safety belt in the event of a crash. They also have load limiters that help control your movements in a crash. Learn more
Airbags are there to stop you and other vehicle occupants from hitting hard parts of the car in moderate to severe crashes. There are different types of airbags available. Most cars manufactured over the last 15 years have driver and passenger frontal airbags. Many newer cars have side torso-protecting airbags and side curtain airbags. Side curtain airbags protect a person's head in a side impact crash.
What makes a car safe isn't necessarily any one of these safety features, but how the different elements of the 'occupant protection system' work together. ANCAP and Used Car Safety Ratings can give you this information. Learn more
Side airbag (or curtain airbag) that deploys in side impact crashes to protect a person's head. These are a very important safety item that can prevent serious injury in pole-side impacts.
Lap/sash safety belts in all forward facing seating positions, including the centre rear. Three-point belts are much safer than lap belts in frontal impacts. If you regularly use the centre-rear seat, this is a must.
Extra airbags designed to cushion the knees of the driver in a frontal crash.
Dedicated lower anchorage points for the installation of child restraints. These make it easier to install child restraints correctly.
Additional airbags that are not associated with crash tests conducted by ANCAP (e.g. centre console between front seats, rear seat frontal airbag, rear seat thorax side airbags and seat cushion airbags).
The inflatable sections of these safety belts may be shoulder-only or lap and shoulder. The system supports the head during the crash better than a web only belt. It also provides side impact protection.
Inflatable safety belts have tubular inflatable bladders contained within an outer cover. When a crash occurs, the bladder inflates with a gas to increase the area of the restraint that touches the occupant. At the same time, it shortens the length of the restraint to tighten the belt around the occupant and improve its protection.
A system that detects an imminent crash and automatically deploys safety devices such as safety belt pretensioners.
Manufacturers take care to ensure that their safety systems are effective for occupants of different sizes and for those sitting in different positions. However, the very best levels of protection can be achieved when the interaction between occupant and restraint systems is optimised. Several manufacturers have developed systems designed to allow a vehicle's protection systems to operate most effectively during an impact.
Some of these systems react immediately following or during the impact to optimise occupant safety. For example, they may not directly restrain the occupant but may control the occupant's movement so that the restraint systems work most effectively. Other systems may predict when a crash is about to happen and prepare the vehicle and its occupants for impact. Predicting a crash can be done in a number of ways: vehicle dynamics and driver actions can be monitored for panic reactions, or radar sensors can detect obstacles in front of the car. The actions that the systems take can vary but typically, slack will be removed from safety belts, seating positions may be quickly adjusted to optimise airbag performance and windows may be shut to prevent ejection. These actions are reversible in the event that the crash is avoided.
This system detects a rollover situation and deploys occupant protection systems such as inflatable curtains. Rollover-enabled air bags are designed to stay inflated after a crash for about five seconds. This vs. the 300 milliseconds of protection provided by head-curtain air bags that deploy in a side-impact crash.
A seat design that responds to rearward crashes by moving the head restraint forward. It also performs other actions to reduce the risk of whiplash type injuries.
A system that detects a crash with a pedestrian. In response, it either deploys an external airbag or raises the vehicle's bonnet to cushion the impact.
Head restraints with geometry designed to protect an adult in a crash from the rear.
A system that alerts emergency services (or a third party service provider) if a severe crash occurs.