Special Report on the Motor Show (9): Bags of new ideas for giving priority to safety: New seatbelts, airbags and anti-skid control are all designed to reduce injury to motorists. Anthony Lewis reports

SELLING safety has never been easy. A recent national survey by Renault among 1,000 women drivers put safety second to reliability as the most important quality in a car, and anti-lock brakes were rated as by far the single most important feature, with power steering and seats second and third.

The safest part of a car is the driver, and if the driver is sitting comfortably in a well-planned interior, he or she will be able to concentrate totally on driving, says Vauxhall, which puts ergonomics high on the priority list.

At Ford the view is that safety will sell cars. 'It's the right thing for us to do for the public,' says Deborah Saybold, the UK programme manager on the Escort and Orion. She identifies the main areas of development as the more widespread use of airbags and improvements in seat design and how seatbelts work.

Seatbelts that pre-tension - actually pulling the occupant back in his seat rather than just stopping him from being thrown forward - are becoming more common. A three-point belt in the centre of the rear seats instead of a lapbelt has been standard in Volvos since 1990.

Built-in safety - making the passenger cage stronger, for example - was a vital part of the revamping of the Escort, which went on sale at the beginning of the month. Ms Saybold says: 'We want to keep improving the safety of our cars independent of what the competition is doing. We want to lead the market in safety.'

The restyled Escort, Britain's best-selling car, gets side-impact protection bars - horizontal bars fitted inside the doors - which were part of the new Vauxhall Astra package when it was launched a year ago, and have now been extended to the Cavalier and Calibra, the best-selling coupe.

There is little doubt that Britain's two leading manufacturers are keen to be seen giving priority to safety. But as Ms Saybold admits, educating the public is a lengthy process. In the United States, most people want airbags in their cars now that early doubts about them blowing up at the wrong time have proved groundless.

Last month Vauxhall announced that a driver's airbag would be available as an option on all Astras and Cavaliers from the New Year. A similar announcement from Ford is imminent.

The Volkswagen Vento, which makes its UK debut at the Motor Show, becomes the first car in its class to offer both a driver's and front-seat-passenger airbag as an option. VW uses a smaller Euro- standard airbag of 35 litres for the driver whose position in the car is fairly restricted, but a slightly larger bag for the passenger, whose position cannot be predicted.

Improving the design of seats to stop occupants submarining (sliding out under a belt) is another area of progress, and rear-seat passengers have not been forgotten. 'There's potential to improve the seat design again and of course we could have airbags for rear-seat passengers as well,' says Ms Saybold. She even raises the possibility of airbags fitted into the doors for side impact protection - eight airbags in all.

These are all passive measures designed to stop people getting hurt in an accident. Great emphasis is also being placed on active safety, helping drivers to avoid accidents. After anti-lock brakes comes anti-skid control, which works by using the brakes to stop a wheel spinning so that drive is automatically transferred to the wheel with most grip. Some systems automatically cut engine power until grip is restored.

The VW Vento has TCS (traction control system) which does not cut engine power - a decision taken on the grounds that drivers would find it disconcerting if power was suddenly restricted while they were trying to cross a slippery road junction in a hurry.

Devices like these will become commonplace on more expensive cars and slowly filter through the range as they become accepted.

Experience elsewhere shows that the more expensive the car, the more likely the buyer is to specify safety options. John Evans at Mercedes-Benz says that when the company halved the price of driver's side airbags a year ago, there was a measurable take-up of the then pounds 721 option. Mercedes will fit airbags and anti-lock brakes as standard on all cars built from this month. Some will also have front-seat-passenger airbags as standard. The company has just fitted its one millionth airbag to a car, 12 years after introducing them.

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

    Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

    Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

    £35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

    £45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected