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.

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

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

    Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

    £40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

    Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent