Driving a car that is unsafe can have serious consequences for you and other road users.
Driving is an unpredictable experience and you must ensure that your car is road worthy and that you adhere to safety laws. To ignore them could prove to have disastrous, even fatal, consequences.
Seat belts save lives. Latest figures have found that wearing a three-point seat belt (with a strap across the lap and chest) reduces the chances of dying in a crash by 50 %.
In the UK, wearing a seat belt is a legal requirement if belts are fitted. Drivers are responsible for children under 14 being in a restraint appropriate to their age and height.
Drivers are legally responsible for ensuring child passengers are in a seat belt/restraint that is compliant with the law. Children up to 150cm tall should be secured in a child restraint suitable for their height and weight. A properly fitted child restraint could save a child’s life.
To keep children safe in the car:
- use the appropriate child restraint for youngsters under 150cm tall (go by their height and weight);
- buy the best child seat available with the most safety features. Restraints should carry the United Nations ‘E’ mark or a British Standard ‘Kitemark’;
- never use a second-hand restraint; it could be damaged in ways you can’t see;
- use rear-facing seats for babies;
- if it’s possible to do so in line with the fitting instructions, fit your child seat in the middle of the rear of your car, furthest away from the exterior;
- fit your child restraint with care in line with the fitting instructions and check it is tightly and correctly fitted before every trip. Take care to ensure that the seat belt is correctly threaded and tight; and
- always ensure your child’s seat gives his or her head and neck protection. The top of your child’s head should never come above the top of their child seat.
- carry someone else’s child unless you are certain they are in a restraint that is correct for their height and weight and properly fitted;
- allow your child to be carried in someone else’s vehicle unless they are in a restraint that is correct for their size and weight and properly fitted;
- carry extra children with no restraints or seat belts, even on short journeys;
- hold a baby or child – they will fly out of your hands in the event of a collision; and
put a baby or child inside your own seat belt with you – they could be crushed by the weight in any incident.
As a driver you have a responsibility to ensure that your vehicle is well maintained and road worthy. In the UK, all cars, motorbikes and light passenger vehicles must pass an annual MOT test once they are three years old.
Common safety-critical defects in cars are:
Incorrect tyre pressure and tread depth
- this is the most common vehicle defect contributing to fatal crashes;
- tyres must be kept at the correct pressure as recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. Driving with under inflated tyres results in reducing steering control, creating longer stopping distances, greater fuel consumptions and greater wear on the tyres;
- as a driver you should check your tyre pressure once a month and always before a long journey; and
- tyres must be replaced when the tread wears down as this greatly increases stopping distances. In the UK, car and van tyres must be replaced before the legal minimum tread depth of 1.6mm. Check tread once a week.
A wheel that becomes detached when the car is moving can cause serious injury to a pedestrian or incredible damage to an oncoming vehicle.
Reasons a tyre can become detached are:
- the studs and bolts attaching the wheel become loose;
- incorrect fittings may have been used;
- components may be in poor condition; and
rust or dirt may build up on wheel fixings.
Drivers should look out for:
- rust or bright metal around the wheel nut;
- cracked or distorted wheel rims; and
- broken or loose fixings.
Regularly checking brakes is important to drivers as noticing any problems early on and getting them fixed can avoid more serious and costly problems.
These are the following warning signs to look out for which will signal your brakes need to be looked at:
- needing to press much harder than usual on the brake;
- the vehicle taking longer than usual to stop when the brakes are applied;
- the brake pedal sinking right down when you put your foot on it;
- the brake pedal becoming very stiff and hard to put down; and
- the handbrake not release, or moving up and down much easier than usual.