India has the dubious distinction of being the country with the most fatalities from road accidents. While carmakers today are offering some basic safety features on the options list, they are usually expensive add-ons, while they should actually be essential items. There is also the vague, skewed perception that safety technology that works in other countries is not important here because of India’s relatively lower road speeds. Here is a list of essential safety features you should have on your car.
1 3-point seatbelts for all passengers
This is the most basic safety feature one can ask for and is of paramount importance. Without the shoulder strap, the entire upper body is prone to whiplash and that can be extremely dangerous. The Hyundai i20, for example, also has a three-point seatbelt for the rear-centre passenger. Not all cars may have it but if you have the option of going in for a variant of a car that offers this, it’s a wise choice to make.
Airbags are now available on higher variants of even affordable models or on the options list, and they are worth every penny. The extra cash you shell out actually has the ability to protect you from serious injury or even death. Sensors wired to an onboard processor set off the airbags during a collision. The front airbags inflate automatically to prevent occupants from hitting the dashboard, steering wheel or windshield. Side and curtain airbags, if available, reduce the risk of people injuring themselves against the doors. Even if side airbags aren’t available on your car of choice, front airbags for the driver and passenger are an absolute must.
3 Anti-lock brakes
Barring budget hatchbacks, most cars offer at least one variant that has an Anti-lock Braking System (ABS). The mechanism is worth the premium, as it prevents the car’s wheels from ‘locking up’ during emergency braking. ABS helps the driver to change the car’s direction and steer away from harm even under hard braking. A car without the system could get its wheels locked up, which leaves the car open to uncontrolled skidding and the driver with no way out of the tricky situation.
4 Electronic stability programme (ESP)
ESP is a computerised technology that improves the stability of a car. As soon as it detects a loss of directional control, it automatically starts manipulating the brakes. ESP helps to counter oversteer and understeer by braking just one of the wheels at a time. This creates a steering effect and sets the car back on course. ESP is an option available mostly on high-end cars in our market, but it would be good to see it filter down into more mainstream models in the future.
5 Adjustable head restraints
What most people think of as headrests, are actually a safety feature designed to protect from whiplash injuries during a rear-impact collision. This helps in reducing the chance of neck and shoulder injuries. Adjustable restraints can be locked in place according to the height of the seat occupant. If it is not locked in the correct position during a collision, the extent of protection it offers is compromised. The restraint must be as high as your eyes and as close to the back of your head as possible. Set it no lower than your ears. If it’s too low, whiplash injuries may be worsened. Both driver and passengers (many cars have them on the rear seats too) should take good care to adjust their restraints perfectly before the drive.
6 Rear wiper and defogger
This is a feature that may seem minor, but is vital. The rear windscreen can get just as fogged up and dirty as the front windscreen, especially during the monsoon; this can affect your rear visibility and pose a hazard. The defogger clears the mist off your window and the wiper cleans off the water and slush. Defoggers are now available on most cars, while wipers are usually available on hatchbacks and SUVs. If not the rear wiper, you must at least opt for a defogger.
Safety features are often overlooked by carmakers, but part of the reason is because we, as customers, tend to skip them because of the extra cost. It’s not until we find ourselves in a sticky situation that we realise the importance of these safety features. Next time you look for a car, make safety a prioirity.
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