ICBC’s top five tips for buying a safer vehicle

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January 18, 2011 – What better way to kick-off a new year than with a new vehicle purchase? If you’ve found the model that has the right look, price and size for you, have you also considered how it will protect you and your passengers?

Any vehicle purchase is a significant investment but for a small price differential, you could be getting a whole lot more protection. Buying a vehicle with high standard safety features can not only protect you but also reduce the likelihood of you even being in a crash.

Many key safety features to look for are readily available, even on used vehicles which make up the majority of vehicle purchases in B.C.

Here are ICBC’s top five tips for buying a safer vehicle:

No. 1 – Belt up: This may seem obvious since seatbelts have been mandatory in vehicles for as long as we can remember but they are still the most important safety device in a vehicle. Contrary to what we might think, seatbelts can vary in design and effectiveness and have improved in performance over the years. Look for shoulder harnesses on all rear seats. Height adjustable shoulder belts ensure you can adjust the seatbelt to fit each passenger correctly. Seatbelt pretensioners retract the belt to remove excess slack in a crash, which can dramatically reduce the severity of injuries.

No. 2 – Full of air: The effectiveness of a good, properly worn seatbelt improves dramatically when combined with the protection offered by airbags. As with seatbelts, they have evolved and improved over the years too. Advanced front airbags have sensors that actually measure the occupant’s size, seat position and crash severity to determine the inflation levels for the driver and passenger, which also reduces the risk of airbag-related injuries. Side airbags are a great feature too as they offer increased protection for the head and torso in a side-impact crash.

No. 3 – Take a break: We’ve come a long way in terms of how technology has improved vehicle safety in recent years and this is no more evident than with the development of anti-lock brakes (ABS). Driving in wintery, wet and icy road conditions is never easy but can be helped with a vehicle that offers dramatically more control on slippery streets. ABS prevents a car’s wheels from locking, allowing you to maintain steering ability and avoid skidding while braking.

No. 4 – Under control: While we’re talking clever technology, electronic stability control (ESC) is another great development in recent years that has helped drivers maintain control on slippery roads or during unexpected manoeuvres such as sudden swerving or braking. The ESC system selectively applies the vehicle’s brakes and/or reduces the engine’s power to keep the vehicle moving in the driver’s intended direction, preventing loss of control. ESC works best at reducing the risk of a vehicle rollover, particularly with sport utility vehicles (SUVs), some vans and pick-up trucks. ESC will be mandatory on all new models manufactured from September 2011 (2012 models).

No. 5 – Keep level headed: A correctly adjusted head restraint significantly reduces the risk of soft-tissue neck and back injuries during a crash. Whiplash is the most common type of injury in crashes – more than 70 per cent of people injured report a soft tissue injury to their neck and/or back. The most effective way to prevent whiplash injuries are to purchase a vehicle with a head restraint rated as goodexternal link by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). To ensure the head restraint is adjusted correctly, raise your headrest so the top of it is at least level with the top of your ears. Your head restraint should also be as close as possible to the back of your head. Closer head restraints can be twice as effective in preventing injuries as those that are set too far back

IIHS is a great resource for researching vehicle safety including their 2011 Top Safety Pick Awards, which look beyond the safety basics for more unseen criteria such as roof strength. The other key rating body is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrationexternal link.

As always, icbc.com is a great resource too. Make sure you reference our safer vehicle comparison checklist. And remember, any time you’re thinking of buying a used vehicle, make sure you have a safety check performed by a professional, reputable mechanic who can ensure key features such as brakes and tires are up to current standards and in good working order.

Importantly, always remember that we as drivers are ultimately most responsible for our own protection. Even the best safety technology cannot override your vehicle’s physical limits. If you push your vehicle’s handling too far, you can still be involved in a serious crash. Drive smart.

About ICBC

ICBC serves 3.2 million customers in the province of British Columbia, Canada. ICBC licenses and insures drivers and vehicles across the province through its service centres, plus a network of more than 900 independent brokers and government agent offices. Claims customers are served through local offices and an award-winning Dial-a-Claim call centre. ICBC’s road safety investments help create safer roads, lead to fewer crashes, and help keep rates stable. To find out more, visit icbc.com.