In this chapter, we will learn about the equipment in a car that is created to protect the driver and passengers in case of collisions.
Every vehicle should be equipped with safety restraint equipment to protect the driver and passengers in case of a collision. In fact, of all the safety features in your vehicle, the most essential is probably your seat belts. There are four types of seat belts:
- 2-Point Seat Belt: A restraint system with two attachment points (a lap belt).
- 3-Point Seat Belt: A seat belt with both a lap and a shoulder portion, having three attachment points (one shoulder, two hips).
- Lap Belt: A seat belt anchored at two points, for use across the occupant’s thighs/hips.
- Lap/Shoulder Belt: A seat belt that is anchored at three points and restrains the occupant at the hips and across the shoulder; also called a “combination belt”. The lap/shoulder belt became standard in vehicles sold in the United States beginning in 1974.
For people aged 3 through 34, the leading cause of death in the US is car crashes. The number of deaths related to car accidents in the US has declined since the 1960s, largely due to the implementation and use of seat belts and other safety devices. However, more than 32,000 people die per year and approximately half of those deaths could have been prevented with the proper use of a seatbelt.
Seat belts are designed to retain people in their seats during a crash, and so prevent or reduce injuries. They minimize contact between the occupant and vehicle interior and significantly reduce the risk of being ejected from the vehicle. You might be familiar with the fact that wearing a seat belt can save your life, which is the most important reason always to have the safety belt buckled around you. In Florida on average 41% of those killed in car crashes chose not to wear their seat belts. According to data published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2015 alone, seat belts have saved an estimated 13,941 lives among passenger vehicle occupants age 5 and up.
Besides saving lives, there are plenty of other reasons to wear seat belts, too. These various reasons can include:
- Preventing you from hitting the windshield
- Preventing you from being thrown from the vehicle
- Preventing you from banging around the vehicle and hitting the steering wheel, door, etc.
- Women who are pregnant are more protected when they’re wearing a seat belt
Here are some myths and facts about wearing a seat belt:
Myth 1: I’m good at driving so I don’t need to wear a seat belt.
Fact: A bad driver can still hit you, even though you are a good driver yourself.
Myth 2: I might become trapped in the car during a collision if I wear a seat belt.
Fact: While seat belts may be restrictive when trying to exit a crashed car, you will more likely be conscious and able to exit the car.
Myth 3: Wearing a seat belt is uncomfortable and affects my driving.
Fact: Seat belts have been made increasingly more comfortable and are adjustable in nearly all vehicles.
Myth 4: I’m confident that airbags will be able to prevent injury in a collation.
Fact: Airbags cannot prevent you from bouncing around inside the car in a collision. A combination of seat belt use and airbags is the best way to protect yourself.
To wear a shoulder/lap seat belt properly, follow these steps:
Step 1: Position yourself properly. Sit with your back against the seat back and your hips all the way back in the seat. If you are not sitting upright all the way to the back of your seat you can get more slack in the belt which can cause serious injuries in an accident.
Step 2: Pull the shoulder strap across your body. With your hand closest to the seat belt, reach up by your shoulder and grasp the seat belt at the metal latch. Pull it across your body towards your hip on the opposite side as the arm you are using. The seat belt buckle is located at that opposite hip.
Tip: Ensure the seat belt webbing is not twisted for the most comfortable wear.
Step 3: Locate the seat belt buckle with your other hand. Grasp the buckle and make sure the slotted top end is pointed upwards with the release button on the side away from you.
Step 4: Insert the seat belt. Line up the seat belt latch on the belt webbing with the slot in the top of the buckle and insert it fully. You should hear a click when the buckle fully engages and locks onto the seat belt latch.
Step 5: Make sure you are fully secured. Pull on the seat belt at the buckle to make sure it is fully secured.
Step 6: Adjust the shoulder belt to your body. Adjust the seat belt every time you wear your seat belt to make sure it fits you well. The ideal placement of the shoulder belt is to have it cross your body at your collarbone. Adjust the seat belt height on the pillar if there is an adjustment in your vehicle. Alternatively, if you have a seat height adjustment, you can raise or lower the seat height to compensate for the seat belt location on your shoulder.
Step 7: Tighten the belt at the hips. Make sure the lap portion of the belt is low on your hips and snug. If the lap belt is loose, you can “submarine” under the belt in an accident, causing an injury that would not occur if the belt is snug. Pregnant women should wear their lap belts across the top of their thighs.
Maintenance Tips/ Suggestions
In this section, we will talk about things you can do to make sure the seat belts in your vehicle are up to the task.
- Cleaning seat belts is a regular maintenance operation you should perform every time you clean the car. Make sure you use a proprietary cleaning product that is gentle enough to apply and will not corrode or fray the straps or buckles.
- Have your mechanic check the tension and make sure it is in line with regulatory safety standards. If you have adjustable straps, make sure they travel easily and can be adjusted to suit a passenger or driver of any height.
- If the straps become frayed or do not travel easily through the buckles you should give consideration to replacing them.
- If your buckle is faulty, it should be replaced as soon as possible. There is no leeway when it comes to safety, your equipment either works or it does not. Replacement should be your only option.
The Florida Safety Belt Law
In Florida, the law requires that all drivers, all front seat passengers, and all passengers under the age of 18 fasten their safety belts in all motorized vehicles, except:
- A person certified by a physician as having a medical condition that causes seat belt use to be inappropriate or dangerous. (Keep a copy of certification while driving/being driven.)
- Employee of a newspaper home delivery service while delivering newspapers. • School buses purchased new prior to December 31, 2000.
- Buses used for transportation of persons for compensation.
- Farm equipment.
- Trucks with a net weight of more than 26,000 pounds.
- A seat belt (without a booster seat) may only be used for children 4–5 years of age when the driver is not a member of the child’s immediate family and the child is being transported as a favor or in an emergency
Drivers and passengers 18 or older can be cited if they, or any passenger under the age of 18, are not properly strapped in. Drivers will be charged with a seat belt violation if any passenger under the age of 18 is not restrained with a seat belt or child restraint device. Anyone who violates the safety belt law commits a non-moving violation and is fined $30 plus court costs. However, a violation of the child restraint law is a moving violation, carrying penalties of a $60 fine plus court costs and 3 points assessed against the driver’s license.
Florida law requires children under age 4 to be in a safety seat, and children ages 4 and 5 to be in either a safety seat or a booster seat. It is the parent or guardian’s responsibility to supply the proper child restraint when transporting a child in a vehicle for hire (e.g., taxi, bus, limousine). Failure to properly secure any children in a vehicle may result in a fine of $60 and three points added against your license, as well as up to $55.50 in court costs. The court may waive the fine and points at its discretion if the judge permits the attendance of an approved child restraint safety education program.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends keeping your children in booster seats until they are at least 8 years old or at least 4’9″ tall. Seat belts fit your child properly if:
- the child is tall enough to sit with his/her knees bent at the edge of the seat without slouching;
- the child is able to sit all the way back against the vehicle seat;
- lap and shoulder belts fit low over the hips and upper thighs and snugly over the shoulders;
- the shoulder belt comes across the chest and collarbone; and
- the child can sit in this position during every trip
It is recommended that all children should ride rear-facing until they are at least 2 years old or until they reach the weight or height limit of their rear-facing seat. Many children will outgrow an infant car seat when they are between 20-22 pounds but can remain rear-facing if you move them to a convertible car seat after they outgrow their infant carrier. Many convertible car seats can be used rear-facing for children up to 35 pounds. The rear-facing position offers the best protection for your child. It is important to keep your child rear-facing for as long as the seat allows. Always refer to the car seat owner’s manual for height and weight specifications.
How to place your child in the car seat
It is important that you choose a car seat that fits your vehicle and selects one that is suitable for your child’s age, weight, and height. When it comes to placing your child in the car seat, always read and follow the instructions that came with the car seat. In general, follow these rules:
- Place your child in the car seat, the child’s back and bottom should be flat against the back of the car seat.
- When using a car seat rear-facing, harness straps should be at or below your child’s shoulders. When using a car seat forward-facing, harness straps should be at or above your child’s shoulders.
- The harness straps should fit snugly against your child’s body. No more than one adult finger should fit in between the child’s collarbone and the harness straps.
- The harness clip keeps the harness straps close and snug and should be at your child’s armpit/chest level.
- If needed, support your child’s head with folded towels or rolled-up receiving blankets on either side of the head. Never place anything behind the child’s back or under the child’s bottom.
How to install the car seat:
When it comes to installing the car seat in your vehicle, read the owner’s manual for your vehicle and follow the instructions for adjusting the seat positions and the seat belts. Here are some general tips:
- A rear-facing car seat needs to be semi-reclined usually at a 30-45-degree angle so the child’s head does not flop forward. Refer to car seat owner’s manual for specific instructions regarding correct angle. Many car seats have angle adjusters that can be adjusted to change the angle of the car seat. Most forward-facing car seats should be kept in the upright position. Double check your car seat manual for the angle of your car seat.
- Secure the child restraint in the back seat by routing the safety belt through the car seat according to the instructions that came with the car seat. If your vehicle was made after September 2002 the LATCH attachment may be used instead of the seat belt. This method of installation is not SAFER, just available in most vehicles.
- Get a tight fit. The car seat should not move more than one inch forward or from side-to-side from where it’s attached to the vehicle. If your vehicle was made after October of 1999 look for tether anchors and attach your car seat’s tether strap if the seat is forward-facing.
Using a booster seat correctly
A booster seat positions the child so that the seat belt fits correctly: low over the hips and thighs, and snug over the shoulders. When your child sits on a booster, if his ears are above the vehicle seat and there is no headrest, he must use a high back booster. Remember, always use the vehicle’s lap AND shoulder belt when using a booster seat with a high back.
Additional Safety Tips
Never place a rear-facing infant or child in the front seat of a vehicle that has a passenger side airbag. This could result in serious injury or death to your child if the airbag inflates. The only time a child can ride in the front seat is when the vehicle does not have a back seat. The airbag must be turned OFF, and the seat must be pushed back as far as it can go. All children under the age of 13 should ride in the back seat. That is the safest place.
Leaving children in vehicles
Never leave a child unattended or unsupervised in a motor vehicle; it is extremely dangerous and can result in the child’s injury or death! Florida law states that a parent, legal guardian, or another person responsible for a child younger than 6 years of age must not leave the child unattended or unsupervised in a motor vehicle for a period in excess of 15 minutes or for any period of time if the motor of the vehicle is running, the health of the child is in danger, or the child appears to be in distress. A violation of this law is a second-degree misdemeanor and can result in a fine of up to $500. Violations that cause great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement to a child are considered a third-degree felony.
Neck sprains and strains are the most frequently reported injuries in U.S. auto insurance claims. Such whiplash injuries can be sustained in any type of crash but occur most often in rear-end collisions. Although whiplash is a minor injury, the victim can experience long, painful and devastating symptoms. Good head restraints can help prevent them.
To ensure passenger safety, head restraints or headrests are designed to be at eye level and higher considering the center of gravity of the head and should be as close to the back of the head. They should be fitted to the front and back seats, either attached or integrated to the top of the car seats in order to minimize rearward motion of the passenger during a crash.
Head restraints have been part of the car safety standards in reply to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 202 which requires that head restraints be mandatorily applied to passenger cars, and to multipurpose passenger vehicles, trucks and buses with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 4,536 kg or less, manufactured on or after September 1, 2009.
Airbags are supplemental restraints and are designed to work best in combination with seat belts. Both frontal and side-impact airbags are designed to deploy in moderate to severe crashes. Airbags reduce the chance that an occupant’s upper body or head will strike the vehicle’s interior during a crash. From 1987 to 2015, frontal air bags saved 44,869 lives.
Vehicles can be equipped with both front and side airbags (SABs). Frontal airbags have been standard equipment in all passenger cars since the model year 1998 and all SUVs, pickups, and vans since the model year 1999. SABs are being offered as standard or optional equipment on many new passenger vehicles.
How does it work?
Airbags are passive restraint systems, meaning occupants do not need to do anything as they are designed to activate automatically in a crash. When there is moderate to severe crash, a signal is sent from the airbag system’s electronic control unit to the inflator within the airbag module. An igniter in the inflator starts a chemical reaction that produces a harmless gas, which inflates the air bag within the blink of an eye – or less than 1/20th of a second. Side-impact airbags inflate even more quickly since there is less space between the occupant and the striking object, such as the interior of the vehicle, another vehicle, a tree, or a pole.
Preventing airbag-related injuries
Because airbags deploy very rapidly, serious or sometimes fatal injuries can occur if the occupant is too close to – or is in direct contact with – the airbag when it first begins to deploy. Sitting as far back from the steering wheel or dashboard as possible and using seat belts help prevent occupants from being “too close” to a deploying frontal airbag. As a general rule, keep your chest at least 8 to 10 inches from the horn cover. If you cannot keep this minimum distance, consider using pedal extenders. Also, to avoid an air-bag-related injury, always ensure proper seating position. Wearing your seat belt properly helps ensure that you’re properly seated.
There are few circumstances under which the risk of sitting in front of an active frontal air bag outweigh the safety benefits. Under these circumstances, NHTSA will authorize the installation of an air bag ON-OFF switch. Authorization will be granted under the following four circumstances:
- A rear-facing infant restraint must be placed in the front seat of a vehicle because there is no rear seat or the rear seat is too small for the child restraint. (For the passenger airbag only.)
- A child under 13 years of age must ride in the front seat because the child has a condition that requires frequent medical monitoring in the front seat. (For the passenger airbag only.)
- An individual with a medical condition is safer if the frontal airbag is turned off. A written statement from a physician must accompany each request based on a medical condition unless the request is based on a medical condition for which the National Conference on Medical Indications for Air Bag Deactivation recommends deactivation. (For driver and/or passenger frontal airbag as appropriate.)
- Driver must sit within a few inches of the airbag, typically because they are of extremely small stature (i.e., four feet, six inches or less). (For the driver frontal airbag only.)
Airbag Maintenance and Replacement
Most vehicles have a diagnostic system for the airbags. If you see an SRS light come on, that means the airbag system is experiencing trouble and airbag maintenance may be required. You should have it inspected professionally right away, because the consequences of not following through could be severe.
Always use a reputable shop to have airbags serviced, especially if you need replacement bags. Some unscrupulous businesses have used knock-off airbags that have come into the country illegally. Even though they look legit, these airbags can be downright deadly, so any cost savings comes at a steep price.
Repacking airbags is also dangerous and not legitimate. No good shop will engage in this practice, because the potential for getting the setup wrong is too high. If you get a vehicle with funny bulges in the airbag areas, that’s usually a sign of a repacked airbag.
Vehicle Maintenance for Safety
Proper and regular vehicle maintenance is needed to ensure the safe operation of your vehicle. Although maintenance is not cheap, a properly maintained vehicle will save you money for repair and gas in the long run. In addition, it is frustrating to encounter any form of car trouble, particularly if you are in a hurry or are far from an auto shop. These types of incidents can be avoided if you are able to regularly have your car checked. Regular car maintenance and repair can help prevent the possibility of you being stuck in these situations. Here are some things that need to be checked on a regular basis.
- Keep your tires in shape: According to safercar.gov, more than 11,000 tow-away crashes annually are caused, in part, by tire issues.
- Check air pressure: Underinflated tires are 3 times more likely to cause a serious accident than their properly pumped counterparts. Use a pressure gauge to test them at least once a month and make sure the pressure matches the recommendation listed in your vehicle’s manual or on the tire sidewall.
- Rotate your tires: For longer tread life, rotate every 6,000 to 8,000 miles.
- Check the alignment when you rotate the tires: Poor alignment can lead to uneven tread wear.
- Change the oil and check the fluids: As a general rule, check your oil each month and change it as directed by your owner’s manual. Oil isn’t the only fluid your car needs. Around the time you change your oil, remember to check your power-steering, automatic transmission, wiper, and brake fluids.
- Test the lights: Flip on your headlights, tail lights, brake lights, and turn signals while your car is parked and make sure each one is working. Aside from being a safety hazard, a broken bulb might get you a fix-it ticket. If a bulb is out, take your car to an expert who can determine whether it’s the bulb or the fuse that needs replacing.
- Replace windshield wipers: If you notice that your wipers aren’t working like they used to, don’t let the problem linger until you end up in a downpour with no view of the road ahead. Snapping in a couple of new blades is a quick and affordable fix.
- Check your air filter: Pull out the filter and hold it up to a strong light. If you can’t see light through it, it’s time to replace it. A clean air filter can improve your car’s performance.
- Give the core components a once-over: There’s nothing too technical here, but you can help prevent overheating or electrical failure in your car by simply cleaning debris from the radiator and making sure the battery cables are securely connected and corrosion-free.
- Regular check-ups: Many other car-care tasks — inspecting the exhaust, flushing the cooling system, and replacing valves, hoses, and brakes — can be done less frequently by experts in a repair shop. Scheduling regular tune-ups will help ensure that your car gets total maintenance.
It is against Florida state law to operate a vehicle that is in an unsafe condition to endanger any person or property. Police may stop your vehicle at any time if they believe your vehicle is unsafe. If your vehicle is found to be unsafe and the continued operation of the vehicle presents a hazard to other users of the road then the officer may remove your vehicle from the road. If your vehicle has defective tailpipes, mufflers, windshield wipers, marginally worn tires, then the officer shall give written notice to require proper repair and adjustment within 48 hours excluding Sundays.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Everyone is at risk for CO poisoning. Infants, the elderly, people with chronic heart disease, anemia, or breathing problems are more likely to get sick from CO. According to Center of Disease Control, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning not linked to fires, over 20,000 visit the emergency room, and more than 4,000 are hospitalized.
The problem with carbon monoxide is that it is both odorless and colorless, and by the time you start to feel its effects, it may be too late.
Since you can’t see or smell carbon monoxide, the best way to avoid accidental poisoning is to prevent exposure in the first place.
Reducing the Risk of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in a Car
While the threat of exposure to carbon monoxide poisoning in your car is very real, there are some extremely easy precautions that can reduce the danger to almost nothing at all. These range from making sure that your exhaust system is in good working order, to avoiding certain dangerous situations, and you can even install a portable carbon monoxide detector for extra safety.
- Regularly inspect and repair your exhaust system.
- Leaks in the exhaust system can allow carbon monoxide to enter your vehicle.
- Exhaust system leaks between the engine and the catalytic converter are especially dangerous.
- Regularly inspect your emissions system and make sure your engine is tuned.
- The concentration of carbon monoxide in the exhaust of modern vehicles is relatively low.
- If the engine is out of tune, or the emissions system is malfunctioning, the carbon monoxide levels may skyrocket.
- Avoid driving a car with holes in the floor or trunk, or with the trunk or liftgate open.
- Any holes in the underside of your vehicle may allow exhaust fumes to enter your vehicle.
- This is especially dangerous if the exhaust system has any leaks, or you sit in traffic a lot.
- Never allow passengers to ride in a truck bed covered with a canopy.
- Truck beds and canopies aren’t sealed as well as passenger compartments.
- Carbon monoxide levels may spike under a canopy without the driver noticing.
- Avoid running your car inside a garage or any other enclosed space.
- Even if the windows are rolled up, the carbon monoxide inside the vehicle is likely to reach dangerous levels.
- Even if the garage door is open, carbon monoxide concentrations inside the garage may reach dangerous levels.
- Never run your engine if the vehicle is partially covered in snow.
- If the tailpipe is partially obstructed, the exhaust may be redirected underneath the vehicle and enter the passenger compartment.
- Repeatedly starting and stopping your engine in an effort to stay warm can actually generate more carbon monoxide than just running it continuously.
- Install a 12 volt or battery-powered carbon monoxide detector.
- Since you can’t see or smell carbon monoxide, the only way to be totally safe is to install a detector.