• Defensive Driving Rule #7: Buy and Use Safety Devices

    In addition to seat belts, we also recommend size-appropriate child safety restraints, ABS brakes, and air bags.

    Child Safety Seats: As a defensive driving practice, children under age five should be restrained in approved child safety seats, buckled properly into the vehicle, even when they seem "big" enough to use regular belts. Keep in mind your state may have different legal requirements, and if so, you should comply with them.

    There are different types of seats to use depending on the age, weight and size of the child. Be aware and use the correct type for your child. Buckle the seat into the center, rear seat position where there is increased protection from side impacts. A child seat should not be in the front seat, especially if there is an air bag system installed; an air bag impact can injure or kill a child in an incorrectly installed safety seat.

    ABS Brakes: ABS brakes prevent uncontrolled skids during hard braking, by sensing wheel lock-up and releasing brake pressure (many times per minute), and just long enough to prevent a skid. As a result, you can still steer the vehicle, since the wheels can't lock up. Experts say that steering is faster than braking, but with ABS you can do both. You might say, "I was taught to do this with regular brakes; I pump the brakes to avoid skids." The reality is, when faced with a panic situation, you will NOT likely be able to stop or steer around a hazard using "threshold braking" (or pumping the brake). Average drivers don't practice those skills, and they MUST be practiced repeatedly to be mastered. Note: ABS brakes don't usually stop you FASTER than you can with the correct use of standard brakes, but for most of us, the advantage is in the ability to avoid a skid and still steer. If you have ABS brakes, it is very important that you read the information about how to use them in your owner's manual—and even practice in an empty parking lot somewhere so you know how they work and feel.

    Air Bags: There are some things you need to know about air bags. First of all, the opening of an air bag is not a gentle event; they open with a certain amount of violence. They are timed so as you are thrown forward, they expand to fill the intervening space to prevent your impact on harder surfaces. You can be injured by an air bag - but the injuries will usually be minor compared to those you'd incur otherwise. You do not want to be too close when one triggers, either. Sit as far back from the steering wheel as you can while still comfortably reaching all the necessary controls, and grip the wheel correctly (your vehicle's owners manual has more specific information about this). This is especially important for smaller people. These systems are being improved every year, but even the problems with earlier versions don't change the fact their positive contribution to occupant safety far outweighs their shortcomings. Many people are still walking around today because they had air bags when they needed them. One last thing, be sure to wear your seat belts too; the bags can't help you if you're not in the right place!