By Grant Yoxon

1999 Saab 9-5
Safety Sites

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Transport Canada Road Safety Information Site

Canadian Automobile Association

1999 Honda Odyssey
both the 1999 Saab 9-5 and Honda Odyssey have rear seat adjustable shoulder belts including the centre rear postion.

When airbags and ABS just aren’t enough.

A few manufacturers have begun promoting the crashworthiness of their vehicles, particularly minivans.

For most Canadians, however, safety features are not a very important factor in deciding which vehicle to buy.

According to the Canadian Automobile Association’s (CAA) 19th annual “Vehicle Durability” survey, the average Canadian car buyer is more concerned about price, reliability, handling and performance and fuel consumption. Even the design and appearance of the new vehicle is more important than safety features or the crash worthiness of the vehicle itself.

Safety awareness is increasing however. The number of respondents who would demand specific safety features such as air bags has increased for the third year in a row.

Still, it is no wonder that some vehicle manufacturers, particularly North American auto makers, are not moving quickly to implement features such as centre rear shoulder harnesses which have been proven to save lives and prevent debilitating injuries.

A recent report in the Ottawa Citizen related the tragic consequences to passengers restrained only by poorly fitting lap belts who were involved in severe accidents. Spinal injuries to Kyla MacDonald, 18, of Ottawa and Zoe Childs, 18, of Oxford Station, were directly related to the lap belts they wore. Derek Dupre, 17, of Greely, was killed in the crash that injured Ms. Childs and his injuries were also a result of the lap belt he wore.

Had all three been held by a well-fitting three point restraint, such as provided by a lap belt and shoulder harness combined, it is likely their injuries would have been less severe.

While the Ottawa victims were adults, the risk of injury from lap belts is greatest for children who have outgrown car seats, according to a study conducted by the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and Transport Canada. Loose or poorly fitting lap and shoulder belts are the cause.

Buyers with children or anyone who can expect to carry more than three passengers should seriously consider a new vehicle that has adjustable rear shoulder harnesses and a shoulder harness installed in the centre rear seating position. A growing number of newer models come equipped with a shoulder harness for all passengers including the centre rear position.

To find out which cars are equipped with centre rear shoulder harnesses, go to the web site of the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, where you will find among the vast amount of useful safety information, a table listing all vehicles that offer the three point centre rear restraint. Take this link to go directly to the table.

The table also lists vehicles with adjustable shoulder belts in the back seat, even if they lack a thre-point belt in the centre position. As well, it lists cars, vans and trucks that have two other safety features that are not common, but are increasingly recognized as important, particularly for the safety of children – a manual air bag on/off switch and a built-in child safety seat.

Not all of the vehicles listed at the NHTSA site are sold in Canada, although most are. It may be useful to view the table with a copy of a good new car price guide, such as the CAA’s annual car buyer’s guide, Autopinion, which will not only tell you if a car is available in Canada, but provide additional information on more common safety features such as ABS brakes and passenger side air bags.

Unlike Transport Canada’s Road Safety Information Site, which contains little more than brief fact sheets on air bags and ABS brakes, the NHTSA site contains everything a safety-conscious buyer needs to locate a vehicle that places occupant safety first.

The NHTSA publishes crash-worthiness ratings for new cars, safety recalls and a variety of reports on child passenger safety. Parents will want to read the online pamphlet, Buying a safer car for child passengers.

Readers interested in crash-worthiness ratings should also see the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety site, which uses a different, and possibly better methodology in its crash tests.

If considering a used car purchase, readers should consult Transport Canada’s vehicle recalls online data base. Not only cars are included in the data base, but any motorized or towed vehicle, including motorcycles, snowmobiles, recreational vehicles and travel trailers, and transport trucks and trailers.

Grant Yoxon is an automotive writer and editor of Autos. This article first appeared in the Ottawa Citizen.

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