Table of Contents

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Use and Maintenance of Required Safety Equipment

Drivers of early automobiles did not wear seat belts, but this was not by choice. There was another reason: seat belts had not been invented yet! Many of the things we take for granted today, such as airbags, head restraints, padded dashboards, and antilock braking systems, also did not exist. There were no crumple zones, roll bars, safety cages or electronic stability control. Safety was an afterthought. If any of the windows broke in a collision, they shattered into thousands of razor-sharp shards of glass that flew into you. In many ways, the cars of the past were death traps. Today, all vehicles come with safety equipment. Aren't you glad you're driving today?

Seat Belts

An image of a driver wearing a seat belt

Most vehicles today, such as this one, have integrated lap-shoulder belts that protect drivers.

Of all the safety features in your vehicle (aside from your brakes), the most important is your seat belt (also called the safety belt). Lap-and-shoulder belts became standard features in vehicles sold in the United States beginning in 1974. Thousands of lives have since been saved and millions of injuries prevented. Unfortunately, many drivers still think seat belts are annoying or overly restrictive. But the thousands who have been saved will be happy to say that any minor inconvenience is well worth it.

The effectiveness and importance of seat belts have been proven through various studies, including several done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). For example, NHTSA found that lap-and-shoulder belts, when used, reduced the risk of fatal injury to front-seat occupants in passenger cars by 45% and serious injury by 50%. You and all other occupants should remain inside the vehicle to increase the chances of survival in a collision. Safety belts are your first line of defense as they keep you from being thrown out of the vehicle and into traffic during a collision.

Most vehicles today have integrated lap-shoulder belts, but some older vehicles have separate lap belts and shoulder straps, while others have only lap belts. The lap belt keeps you in your seat, while the shoulder strap protects your head and upper body from the vehicle's interior. You must use both together to get the full benefit from them. Seat belts also keep you in place during a rollover and position you properly (and at a safe distance) when an airbag activates. They will keep you in front of the steering wheel if you spin out, giving you a chance to regain control. An unrestrained driver is thrown around and will lose control in a crash.

Using the Seat Belt

Your vehicle's seat belts are active passenger restraints, which mean occupants must manually put the restraints into position. When you get in the driver's seat, sit no closer than 10 inches from the steering wheel. Straighten your belt before putting it on. A twisted belt is less effective and can actually hurt you, as the force of impact will be concentrated in a smaller area. If your vehicle has a two-part belt system, always buckle both the lap belt and the shoulder belt.

The lap belt should be strapped low across your hips, not your belly. The shoulder strap should be across your chest and collar bone, not behind your back or under your arm. These areas are the strongest in your body and can best withstand the forces in a crash. Both belts should fit snugly, but not locked in place - loose belts will not secure your body to the seat in a crash. Pregnant women should wear their lap belts across the top of their thighs. An incorrectly strapped belt can cause serious injury in a collision.

Seatbelt Design

New adjustable upper belts allow you to change the height of the shoulder strap to accommodate a person's size. This added feature may encourage passengers to wear their belts, as it increases shoulder belt comfort. Seatbelts also have "pretensioners" that retract the seatbelt to remove excess slack in a crash (almost instantly). You still need to adjust your belt as snugly as possible because pretensioners are not strong enough to pull you back in your seat. Pretensioners are good for only one incident and then must be replaced, similar to an airbag.

Maintenance Tips and Suggestions

Seat belts must be in good condition and function properly in order to protect you. If a belt is jammed, straighten it so it moves freely. Your belt should lie flat because it will not be as effective if it is twisted. If it is loose, frayed or shows other signs of wear, have it replaced. Ensure that the buckles fasten completely and do not disengage when pulled. Also check the pendulum or ratchet mechanism by pulling at the shoulder strap. The belt should lock in place; if it does not, have it checked. You can also have the safety belt system inspected by a mechanic or car dealer who will let you know when a belt needs to be replaced.

Nevada Seat Belt Law

An image of a driver who is not wearing a seat belt

In Nevada, the driver and front seat passenger are required to wear seat belts.

In Nevada, using seat belts is not just a good idea, it is required by law.

Operation Strap 'N Snap allows Nevada law enforcement officers to enforce occupant protection laws by stopping and citing seat belt violators without the presence of any other violation. So what is the law on seat belts? You must wear a seat belt if:

  • Your vehicle was manufactured in 1968 or later. These vehicles are required to have lap-type seat belts for use in the front seats.
  • Your vehicle was manufactured in 1970 or later. These vehicles are required to have lap-type seat belts for use in all permanent seating positions. It also must have shoulder harnesses for use in the front seats.
  • Your vehicle is equipped with seat belts as required under federal law. The driver and all passengers age six or older in any vehicle equipped with safety belts must wear them. Child restraints are dealt with separately.

If you don't wear your seat belt, you will be fined $25 if you are stopped for a traffic violation and the police officer sees that you are not wearing it. You will also be fined if your passengers are under 18 and are not wearing their seat belts. The following exceptions are allowed under the Nevada seat belt law:

  • You make frequent stops and leave the vehicle or deliver property, if the speed between stops does not exceed 15 miles per hour.
  • You have a written statement from a physician stating that you are unable to wear a seat belt due to a medical or physical condition.
  • Your vehicle is not required to be equipped with seat belts under federal law.
  • You are performing duties as a rural letter carrier for the United States Postal Service.
  • You are using public transportation (including a school bus, city bus, or emergency vehicle, but not taxicabs).
An image of a baby strapped into a child seat

Children under 6 must be secured in the back seat in an approved child safety seat.

Child Restraint Law - Children under the age of six who weigh less than 60 pounds must be in an approved child safety seat that is appropriate for each child's height and weight. Penalties for failure to comply are determined based on the number of previous violations. A first offense will result in a fine of $100 to $500 or 10 to 50 hours of community service. Upon conviction for a second offense, you will have to pay a fine of $500 to $1,000 or perform 50 to 100 hours of community service. For a third or subsequent offense, your driver's license will be suspended for 30 to 180 days. You will not be required to attend a training program, although successful completion may help to reduce your sentence.

Riding in Taxis - Taxicab passengers 18 years of age and older are also required to wear seat belts if the cab is equipped with them. You can be fined $25 if the taxi is stopped and you are found not wearing your seat belt. There are two exceptions:

  • The taxi is not equipped with seat belts.
  • You have a written statement by a physician certifying that you are unable to wear a seat belt for medical or physical reasons.
An image of a truck bed

The back of a pickup truck is designed for cargo, not passengers.

Unlawful Riding in the Back of Pickup Trucks - Trucks are growing in popularity every year. Many people ride in the back or cargo area of a pickup truck, but that area is NOT designed for passengers. About 200 passengers who ride in the back of pickup trucks unrestrained are killed each year, and more than half are children. Additionally, children are 10 times more likely to die when riding in the back of a pickup truck than in the passenger area. The most common cause of death or injury that results from riding in the cargo area is ejection from the vehicle, which can occur even at low speeds.

Nevada's law prohibits transporting passengers under the age of 18 in cargo areas (the back of a pickup or flatbed truck). Minors may ride in the back of a pickup truck only in these situations:

  • The truck is used for farming or ranching;
  • It is being driven in a parade authorized by local authorities; or
  • It has a camper shell or slide-in camper.

Even if people ride restrained in a covered cargo area, they still are exposed to the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning from exhaust fumes. Your passengers, no matter how old, should not ride in this area even if all the seats are occupied; do not treat them as cargo!

Additional Laws and Safety Tips

Child Seat Tips

The child seat must be strapped very tightly to the vehicle seat to effectively protect a child. Otherwise the child may be injured and the safety belt buckle may fail and become unlatched in a crash. Unless you have a newer vehicle and child seat equipped with special interlocking hardware, you will need to perform the following steps to make sure the seat is installed properly and securely:

  1. Position the child seat and run the safety belt through the frame according to specifications.
  2. Have another person (an adult or teen) press down hard on the child seat (or kneel down on top of it).
  3. Tighten and buckle the safety belt.
  4. The child seat will now be firmly secured to the vehicle seat.

Child Passenger Safety Tips

An image of child passengers

Children must be properly secured in a restraint appropriate for their height and weight.

When securing a child passenger, you need to consider the following:

  • Never hold a child in your lap or strap him or her into the same seat belt as you.
  • Never buckle two children into the same safety belt.

There are three different types of approved child safety seats:

  • An infant seat for children weighing up to 20 pounds.
  • A convertible that fits children from birth to 40 pounds.
  • A booster for children between 40 to 60 pounds.

When using or purchasing a child safety seat, be sure there is a label saying that it has been dynamically crash-tested and was manufactured after 1981. Child safety seats are all installed in different ways; be sure to follow the instruction manual and your vehicle's owner's manual before installing a child safety seat. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends keeping your children in booster seats until they are at least 8 years old or at least 4'9" tall. Seat belts fit your child properly if:

  • The child's knees bend comfortably over the edge of the seat;
  • The lap belt rests on the upper thighs or hips and away from the abdomen;
  • The shoulder belt comes across the chest and collar bone; and
  • The child can sit in this position during every trip.

Unsupervised Children

Never leave a young child unsupervised in or around your vehicle, even if you only need to run a quick errand. When it is 85 degrees outside, it will take less than 10 minutes for the interior of the vehicle to reach 100 degrees! It can still get hot even if the windows are down or the air conditioner is on. Hyperthermia (heat stroke) is not the only danger an unsupervised child faces in a vehicle. A child left alone may play with the vehicle controls, setting it in motion and leading to a crash. Other risks include hypothermia (excessive loss of heat caused by extreme cold), abduction and trunk entrapment.

It is illegal in Nevada to knowingly and intentionally leave a child who is 7 years of age or younger inside your car without being supervised by someone who is 12 years of age or older if:

  • There are conditions that present a significant risk to that child's health or safety (i.e. it is too hot or too cold outside);
  • The engine is running; or
  • The keys are in the ignition.

Police officers and other emergency personnel may use reasonable force such as breaking a window to protect and free the child. You will be charged with a misdemeanor, and a conviction will result in a term of up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. However, the court may allow you to instead attend an educational program if you complete the program by the deadline the court gives you. This program must discuss the dangers of leaving a child unattended or inadequately supervised in a vehicle. If the child is harmed as a result, you may be charged with child abuse or neglect, which is a felony with greater penalties. Always take your child passengers with you whenever you leave your vehicle, even if you plan to be gone for only a few minutes.

Here are a few tips to ensure your car is safe for young children:

  • Always have children supervised in the vehicle, even if the windows are down.
  • Never leave your car keys unattended where children can get to them.
  • Always keep your car's doors and trunk locked even when parked.
  • Put your backpack or purse in the back seat when you have a child passenger. You will be less likely to forget.
  • Check your car's child resistant locks to ensure they function correctly.

Always take your child passengers with you whenever you leave your vehicle, even if you plan to be gone for only a few minutes.

Pets in Vehicles

An image of dog in the back seat

Be sure not to leave pets unattended in your vehicle.

Animal passengers face similar dangers from extreme heat or cold inside vehicles as young children. It is illegal in Nevada to leave a cat or dog unattended inside a vehicle if the conditions present a health risk to the animal, such as when it is hot or cold outside. Even if you leave a window open, it can get too hot or too cold inside the vehicle. You will be charged with a misdemeanor, and a conviction will result in a jail term of up to six months and/or a fine of up to $1,000. Additionally, police officers, firefighters, animal control officers, and other emergency personnel may use reasonable force to free the cat or dog.


Many myths exist regarding the use of seatbelts which are simply not true. Below are six statements. Can you identify which of these is a TRUTH? Consider each statement carefully before choosing your answer. Hint: only ONE of these statements is true. You can check your answers later when you reach the end of this chapter.

  1. Safety belts trap you in the car during a crash. Truth Myth

  2. Safety belts are for long drives but not needed for quick, local trips. Truth Myth

  3. It's safe to hold a child in your lap if you also wear your seat belt. Truth Myth

  4. Safety belts can't prevent all injuries, but they can reduce their severity. Truth Myth

  5. One person's decision not to wear safety belts will not affect anyone else. Truth Myth

  6. People can walk away after being thrown out of a car in a collision. Truth Myth

Seat Belt Statistics

  • According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), seat belts saved an estimated 241,789 passenger vehicle occupants over the age of four between 1975 and 2007.
  • Before the first seat belt law was passed in 1984, the national average for seat belt usage was 15%; the latest estimate for June 2008 shows a national average of 83%.
  • According to data collected by NHTSA, 61% of youths between 16 and 20 who died in automobile collisions in 2007 were not wearing seat belts.
  • 49 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico all have some sort of seat belt law, and all 50 states and D.C. have child safety seat laws.
  • In 2007, approximately half of all people who died in traffic crashes in Nevada were not wearing seat belts.

Why Use Seat Belts?

To truly understand the value of always wearing a safety belt, it's important to understand some of the dynamics of a crash. Every motor vehicle crash is in fact the sum total of three nearly simultaneous collisions:

An image of front-end collision with a tree

Every motor vehicle crash is in fact the sum total of three nearly simultaneous collisions.

  1. The Vehicle's Collision - This initial collision causes the car to buckle and bend as it hits something before coming to an abrupt stop. This occurs in approximately 1/10 of a second, or literally the blink of an eye. The factory-designed crumpling of the car's front end absorbs some of the force of the crash and cushions the rest of the vehicle from the force of impact. This enables the passenger compartment to stop more gradually than the front of the car.
  2. The Human Collision - The second collision occurs as the car's occupants hit some part of the interior. At the moment of impact, unbelted occupants are still traveling at the vehicle's previous rate of speed. When the vehicle comes to a complete stop, these unbelted occupants slam into vehicle components such as the steering wheel or windshield. There is also great potential for person-to-person impact. In a crash, occupants tend to move toward the point of impact, not away from it. People in the front seat are often struck by unbelted rear-seat passengers who have become high-speed projectiles. Many serious injuries result from the human collision.
  3. The Internal Collision - Although an occupant's body eventually comes to a complete stop, the internal organs still move forward. Quite suddenly, these organs smash against other organs or bones. This third collision often causes serious or fatal injuries.

Properly fastened seatbelts distribute the forces of rapid deceleration over the chest, hips and shoulders. These are among the largest and strongest parts of a person's body and can thus endure greater levels of force. In a crash, the seatbelt stretches slightly to slow your body down and lessens the distance your upper torso travels before stopping. It also reduces the chance of the "human collision" phase of a motor vehicle crash.

What's in a second?

An image of a clock

A lot of damage can occur from a collision in less than one second.

A lot of damage can occur from a collision in less than one second! The Georgia Paramedics Against Drunk Driving determined the following would happen to a driver if a car traveling at 55 mph were to crash into a fixed object, in the first second of impact:

  • First tenth of a second: The front bumper and grill collapse.
  • Second tenth of a second: The hood scrunches up, rising and striking the windshield. The rear wheels, still spinning, lift from the ground. The fenders begin wrapping themselves around the object. The car's frame stops, but the driver and the rest of the car is still going 55 miles an hour. Instinct causes the driver to stiffen his legs against the crash, and they snap at the knee joint.
  • Third tenth of a second: the steering wheel starts to disintegrate, with the steering column pointing straight at the driver's chest.
  • Fourth tenth of a second: The front two feet of the vehicle is wrecked, while the rear end still moves at 35 miles per hour. The driver's body is still traveling at 55 miles per hour.
  • Fifth tenth of a second: The steering column punctures the driver's chest, and blood rushes into his lungs.
  • Sixth tenth of a second: The driver's shoes, despite being tightly laced, are ripped off his feet. The brake pedal breaks off. The car frame buckles in the middle. The driver's head smashes into the windshield. The rear wheels, still spinning, fall back to earth.
  • Seventh tenth of a second: Hinges rip loose, doors fly open and the seats break free, striking the driver from behind. At this time, the driver is already dead.

The above progression of events assumes the vehicle has no airbags (or they failed to activate) and the driver did not buckle up. If that driver had been secured with his seat belt, he would not be hurtling toward the steering column at dangerously high speeds and thus remain safe.

Safety belts are life belts. They help to keep you:

  • From being thrown from your vehicle. You are 25 times more likely to be killed if you are ejected from your car than if you are buckled up inside. Death occurs not just from the impact with the ground. You may be scraped along the pavement, run over by your own car or another vehicle, or hurled against a tree or other roadside object. It is much safer to remain inside your vehicle.
  • From hitting the dashboard too hard. No matter how strong you are, it is impossible to brace yourself in a crash. The forces in a crash are too great. According to the National Safety Council, if you are traveling just 30 mph, and you weigh 150 pounds, you will hit the dashboard with a force of 4,500 pounds!
  • In better control of your car. Your safety belt keeps you in position at the steering wheel. It is no coincidence that the best place to control your vehicle is at the driver's seat.

It is no accident that seat belts are also called "safety" belts! Whatever your excuse for not wearing your seat belt, it is not reasonable.


Beginning with the 1999 model year, the federal government required automakers to install driver and passenger airbags for frontal impact protection in all cars, light trucks, and vans. Side airbags are not mandated by the government via the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). They are, however, offered as either a standard or optional feature by many automakers.

You may find comfort in knowing that your airbag will offer you a significant measure of protection in a crash. But don't let that seduce you into abandoning your responsibility to be a safe and attentive driver. Think about it: do you really want to see that airbag inflate? Of course not! Just be glad that it's there and drive as if it is not.

Purpose and Use

An image of an airbag

Airbags are most effective when used in conjunction with properly fastened seat belts.

Airbags are passive restraint systems, meaning that occupants do not need to do anything as they are designed to activate automatically in a crash. Most frontal airbags are designed to inflate in crashes equivalent to hitting a solid barrier at 10-12 mph. Airbags have also proven to be particularly effective in preventing serious head and chest injuries. A study by NHTSA finds that the combination of seat belts and airbags is 75% effective in preventing serious head injuries and 66% effective in preventing serious chest injuries in a collision. Unfortunately many people mistakenly believe that they are not required to wear seat belts when their vehicles have airbags. These restraints are supplementary, not replacement, equipment and are effective only with properly worn seat belts.

Side airbags provide additional chest protection during side collisions, and they may even provide head protection.


Since airbags are designed to be used once, you usually do not need to check to ensure that they are working properly in your vehicle. However, you should pay attention to the airbag indicator on the dashboard that lets you know if there is a problem. If they stay on, flash while driving, or fail to activate when you start your car, have your airbags checked by a mechanic.

Other facts about airbags:

  • They inflate and start to deflate three times faster than the average person can blink his or her eyes.
  • They can inflate at speeds of up to 200 mph. After 1997, manufacturers were allowed to make airbags that deflated at lower speeds.
  • They can only be used one time if ever activated and then must be replaced.
  • They are extremely reliable, and the possibility of accidental inflation is very unlikely.
  • Inflation will not block your vision as it starts to deflate instantly.
  • Crash sensors measure the severity of the crash. If the crash is severe enough, these sensors send a signal to the airbag, which inflates in a fraction of a second.

Airbag Safety Tips

Airbag Dangers

The energy required to inflate frontal airbags quickly in a crash can sometimes cause injury. Airbags inflate and deflate in fractions of a second at speeds that can exceed 200 mph (in older models), so the force that is generated can be enormous. Fortunately, most of the sustained injuries are minor scrapes and abrasions on people's hands, arms, and faces. Serious injuries and deaths are relatively rare; since 1990, deaths attributable to frontal airbag inflation in low speed crashes numbered 296 according to NHTSA, compared with the 28,244 lives that were saved (as of January 1, 2009).

These problems aren't happening entirely at random. Most deaths caused by frontal airbags involve people who were unbelted or improperly secured. Unbelted passengers will move forward due to hard braking or other violent maneuvers before a frontal crash. Airbags can be particularly dangerous to young children, so you must make sure to position them properly to ensure their safety. This means you need to put children AWAY from the airbag and in the back seat.

Airbags pose the greatest risk to the following groups:

  • Young children.
  • Short drivers.
  • The elderly.
  • Those who sit too close to the steering wheel and are improperly restrained.
  • Those with certain medical conditions (as determined by a physician).

Safety Tips

The first step in preventing injuries from inflating airbags is to wear the seat belt and maintain a proper seating position. Airbags complement seat belts well, but only when the belts are in use. There are some things you can do to minimize these dangers:

  • Buckle up!
  • Sit back as far as possible from the steering wheel, but do not tilt your seat too far back or you may slide under your seat belt in a crash. Keep your chest at least 10 to 12 inches from the horn cover. If you cannot keep this minimum distance, consider pedal extenders. There's no shame in using extenders. Nobody outside your car will be able to see them anyway.
  • Place your hands at the sides of the steering wheel, with your left hand at the 9 o'clock position and your right hand at 3 o'clock. If you put your hands too high, they will fly into your face when the airbag inflates. Also keep your hands, fingers, thumbs or arm off the center of the steering wheel for the same reason.
  • Have children and small adults seated in the rear and properly restrained by seat belts. Seat children under 12 in the back seat.
  • Never place a child safety seat in front of an airbag unless the airbag switch is in the OFF position. When the airbag hits the seat, it will crush the child and possibly cause the neck to break upon impact.
An image of a pregnant driver

Pregnant women should place the lap belt below the fetus, low over the hip bones, and use the shoulder belt normally.

Pregnant Women

Pregnant women do not need to follow safety rules that are any different than those previously listed for adults. If you are pregnant, simply buckle up and sit a safe distance behind the airbag. Position the lap belt below the fetus, low over the hip bones, as indicated earlier. Wear the shoulder belt normally. The damage to a fetus often comes from the steering wheel crashing into the stomach. By buckling up properly and sitting a safe distance from the airbag, the fetus will have a higher chance of being protected in a crash. The airbag disperses the force of the collision throughout the entire front of the body, as opposed to the steering wheel crushing the abdomen with the force of the collision.


The safest place for children to sit, as has been repeatedly stated here, is in the back seat. Because airbags pose a risk to young children, you should never allow them to sit in the front seat of a vehicle unless it has an ON-OFF switch for the airbag. Do not place car seats and booster seats in the front seat of a vehicle with an airbag unless it has an ON-OFF switch. Always follow the manufacturer's recommendations regarding the weight or size of children who use a particular restraint; they should help you determine which product is best for your child.

Airbag ON-OFF Switch

Most people do not need an on-off switch in their vehicles because they are safer with airbags. The few people who do need an ON-OFF switch must first obtain permission from the NHTSA before obtaining the switch. This is done by downloading or obtaining a brochure on airbag ON-OFF switches and then submitting a request if you can certify that you qualify. NHTSA will then send you an authorization letter that you can take to a dealer or auto repair shop if the request is properly completed. You can request permission from the NHTSA for an air bag ON-OFF switch to be installed in your vehicle only if:

  • You cannot avoid sitting closer than 10 inches from the steering wheel;
  • You have been advised by a physician that you have a medical condition where your risk of injury from air bags is greater than hitting the dashboard;
  • You are frequently in situations that require a child 12 or under to ride in the front seat; or
  • You cannot avoid placing a rear-facing infant seat in the front seat, for example in a two-seat vehicle.


If a child must sit in the front seat, make sure he or she is secured with a seat belt, shoulder strap, and/or a proper child restraint seat based on his or her size or weight. Children should sit back against the back of the seat positioned a safe distance from the airbag. Remember: A child should never sit on the lap of another person.

Head Restraints

An image of a headrest

Head restraints can help protect the neck against whiplash injuries.

You know those things on the top of car seats? They are often referred to as headrests, but they should actually be called "head restraints," which is the correct term. Many people assume these are a comfort feature, but that is not entirely correct. These padded restraints are standard safety equipment on front seats and are designed to protect the neck against whiplash injuries. Whiplash is a common result of rear-end crashes. These injuries occur when the head snaps back and then forward suddenly, which can cause severe strain to the neck. When properly positioned, the head restraint restricts the backward movement of the head in a collision, thereby preventing whiplash. To get the maximum benefit from head restraints, they should be properly adjusted to fit the round part of the back of the head and not on the base of your skull.

Do you know the proper position for a head restraint? Below are two common positions where the top of the restraint lines up against the head. Which one is correct?

  • Base of your head.
  • Top of your ear.

The first position may seem to offer your head support, but only if you intend to sleep while driving, which is not advised. In a rear-end collision, your head will still snap back, resulting in injury to your neck. In order to avoid injury to the neck, your head needs to move as little as possible. That is best achieved by using the second position. Below are some tips to help you adjust your head restraint properly:

  1. Check your head restraint before getting into the car, whether you are the driver or passenger. Learn how it works. Does it adjust up and down? Does it tilt? Does it lock into place? Knowing how your head restraint works will help you find the position that is best for you.
  2. Once in the car, make sure your seat back is in an upright and comfortable driving or sitting position.
  3. Face forward and reach behind you to adjust the height of your head restraint. In the optimal position, the top of the head restraint should be at least as high as the top of your head and no lower than 2.5 inches below the top of your head (the top of your ear). If your restraint is designed to lock into position, make sure it is locked in after you've adjusted it to the right height for you.
  4. Feel how close the head restraint is to your head while still facing forward. In the optimal position, it should be as close as possible to the back of your head, or no more than 2.5 inches away. If your restraint tilts, this can help you find the right distance. Adjusting the height of your seat can help, too. It is important that you do not tilt your seat too far back. While this may make you look cool, the head restraint will not be able to properly protect you in that position.
  5. To ensure that you've positioned your head restraint right, use a ruler to measure the height and distance from your head. You can also have someone in the car do it for you.

Other Safety Features

Car manufacturers design vehicles with safety in mind. Certain features in your vehicle assist in collision prevention.

Safety Cage

Your car is a cage, or more precisely, a safety cage. The frame or structure of a vehicle is designed to absorb the energy in a crash by bending without breaking to minimize intrusion into the passenger compartment (the area where you and your passengers sit). It also supports the roof so it does not collapse during a roll-over. Convertibles have roll bars that protect occupants during a roll-over since they do not have support beams holding up the roof.

Crumple Zones

An image of a car with a damaged hood and front

The crumple zone protects passengers by absorbing the energy from a collision.

Perhaps the most important design feature in vehicles contributing to safety in crashes, other than the seat belt, is the crumple zone. First introduced by BMW in the 1950s, it is normally found in the front and rear and is designed to absorb the energy from a crash. The crumple zone works by collapsing from impact, which increases the vehicle's stopping distance, thus cushioning the passenger compartment and absorbing the energy. The result is that occupants experience substantially less force, increasing their chances of survival. There is, of course, a drawback: the vehicle often becomes a total loss. But that has to be better than the loss of a life.

Door Locks

An image of a car's door lock switch

Locked doors are less likely to open in a crash, helping to keep you inside.

Structurally, locked doors add roof support and structural strength to the roof in case of a flip or roll over wreck. When locked, the doors are less likely to open in a crash and will prevent you from being thrown out of the vehicle. Locked doors also help prevent strangers from entering your car when stopped at a light or when in traffic.

Newer Safety Features

Along with technological advances in performance and comfort, there has been progress in safety technology. Driving a motor vehicle with some of these new safety features may prevent injury in the event of a collision, save you money, and may even save a life. Safety features may also increase the vehicle's resale value and reduce the cost of automobile insurance. A few of these features are discussed below.

Daytime Running Lights (DRLs) - Introduced to help reduce daytime crashes, daytime running lights switch on automatically when vehicles are in use. These lights increase the ability of oncoming drivers to see your vehicle. Since they may not include taillights or other exterior lights, you must still turn on the headlights at dusk or when you must continuously use your windshield wipers. Although DRLs are not required in Nevada or other states, they come as standard equipment in many vehicles.

An image of a car's daytime running lights

Daytime running lights (DRLs) come as standard equipment on many vehicles.

Traction Control - Traction control systems improve vehicle stability and steering control during acceleration by controlling the amount the wheels can slip when you apply excess power. The system automatically adjusts the engine power output and sometimes applies braking force to selected wheels during acceleration and cornering. This feature is mainly found in vehicles with four-wheel, anti-lock brake systems.

Electronic Stability Control (ESC) - The latest in a line of automotive safety features to be added to vehicles, ESC is similar to traction control but takes it a step further. It continuously monitors how well a vehicle responds to the driver's steering input. If it senses the vehicle is about to veer off its path, this system applies braking power automatically to one or more wheels to keep the vehicle under control. ESC is especially helpful when drivers enter a curve too fast, oversteer or perform other extreme maneuvers where loss of control or even a rollover may occur. Electronic stability control was introduced in some luxury vehicles and now can be found in some sport utility vehicles. It will become standard in all vehicles by the 2012 model year.

Highway Design as a Safety Feature

Although this module stresses the importance of safety equipment in our vehicles, highway design is also important to our safety. Just take a look at the features of the roadways you are on. Most road signs and pavement markings are designed with materials that reflect light back to a driver's eyes, which helps to make them easier to see at night. Guard rails help prevent drivers from veering off the roadway into hazards such as oncoming traffic and steep edges. Rumble strips alert drivers potential dangers, such as when they drift out of their lane. Yellow freeway barrels filled with water are placed at some exit ramps to help keep cars from crashing into concrete barriers. These are just a few of the more prominent features in highway safety design. So if you were to make a slight error in judgment that leads to a crash, your vehicle's safety equipment, in conjunction with the safety features built into the roadways, will probably help to keep you safe.

Concluding Thoughts on Safety Equipment

How did you do on the Seat Belt Myths quiz? Here are the answers (remember that only one is correct):

  1. MYTH! You don't need much time to unfasten your seat belt - less than a second. You have a better chance of escaping when you're conscious, which is what your safety belt will ensure, than if you're knocked out. It's extremely rare for a driver to be trapped by a seat belt after a crash.
  2. MYTH! More than half of all fatal traffic crashes occur within 25 miles of the home, often when traveling at speeds of 40 mph or less. Even if you are only going on a short drive, going without fastening your seat belt is a bad risk. Don't take chances with your life.
  3. MYTH! You are risking the child's life! If you crash while traveling at 30 mph, a 10 pound baby will be moving at a force of several hundred pounds. It will be impossible for even the strongest adult to prevent that child from flying into the dashboard or windshield. Vehicle collisions are the top preventable cause of death for children. Remember that every child must be in a child safety seat or in a booster seat, preferably in the back seat. Obey the law and protect that precious life!
  4. TRUTH! Sometimes the forces of a crash are so great that nothing can be done to prevent injuries. But a properly worn safety belt can reduce the severity of these injuries.
  5. MYTH! If you think it won't affect anyone else, consider your family and friends. Even if they are not with you should you get involved in a crash, they will be affected if you get hurt or die because of your decision not to use your seatbelt. In addition, taxpayers pay as much as 85% of medical costs from crashes. Another point to keep in mind is that anyone who is unrestrained will become a flying projectile, which means that even if you are using your seat belt, you may still die because of that one person!
  6. MYTH! You may get lucky enough to be thrown into a big pile of pillows, but your chance of surviving a car crash is four times greater if you are buckled INSIDE your vehicle. Your seat belt will keep you from being thrown into the path of another vehicle or into other objects or even onto the road itself. Also consider this statistic from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration: 75% of occupants who were ejected from the vehicle in a collision did not survive.

The safety equipment in your motor vehicle is absolutely crucial to your well-being behind the wheel. But when all is said and done, what is "behind the wheel" is even more important - YOU! Why? Your car doesn't determine its speed. It doesn't turn, stop, or accelerate by itself. As the driver, YOU make all the decisions. YOU are in control. YOU determine the speed of your vehicle. Think about that every time you go out for a drive.