What is the most important safety equipment on your vehicle?

The most important safety equipment for a car?  Seat belts, maybe?  After all, their consistent use is critically important.  But many experts say it’s not those.

Photo courtesy of NHTSA

Airbags, perhaps?  They certainly help save lives.  But it’s not those, either.

Good brakes?  Yes, another very important item, although it’s still not the one.

Think of two men, dressed for the outdoors and standing one in front of the other, and you might spot the clue.

What are those two men wearing on their feet?

The four tires on a car each have a ‘contact patch’ — the amount of rubber actually touching the road — similar in size the sole of a man’s shoe, hence the lighthearted comparison, above.

And the fact is simple:  It doesn’t much matter what safety devices you might have in your vehicle, once you truly lose grip with your tires, your outcome is in the lap of the gods.  Even the now-old technology of ABS is not designed to stop your car faster if you skid — that is a common and potentially dangerous misconception that has never been properly corrected.  ABS exists to let a driver keep some steering control in the event of a skid, which is a significantly different issue.  But the fact still remains that if badly-worn tires are being used, even ABS won’t be able to help.  Nor will the more recent Electronic Stability Control [ESC] or the very new Automatic Emergency Braking [AEB]*

A badly defective and dangerous tire.
Traffic patrol police officers commonly refer to tires in such bad condition as this one as being “a crash looking for somewhere to happen!” And we all know what bigger, tragic price a crash can entail. (Copyright image, 2015.)

Because many people don’t get it about just how important to safety the tires are, it is common for people to try to ‘save money’ by waiting longer than they should to buy a new set.  But this can be lethal.

Not replacing a seriously damaged or badly abused tire can be equally dangerous, even if it has plenty of tread-depth remaining.

If you live somewhere that gets very heavy rain — think particularly of places like central Florida with it’s often-daily thunderstorms in summer — and you use the ‘penny test’ and Lincoln’s hair on the coin to dictate when you should get new tires, then once more you will be putting yourself and others in significant danger.  The shallower the ‘sipes’ (the grooves in the tire tread) the less water they can squirt out from under the tire and the more likely a skid becomes.  Changing the tires sooner in such areas should never be thought of as ‘loosing money’ because it potentially could be the difference between somebody living or being killed.  It really is as simple as that.

More and more safety topics of our own will be added to this blog, here in Road Safety USA, but in the meanwhile, here’s a link to a detailed post and video about the importance of using winter tires at the appropriate time of year, even if you live in an area that is only cold and doesn’t even get snow.

Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires - tread pattern.
Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires on one of our own vehicles. (Copyright image, 2018.

Winter tires is another subject that makes people think of extra expense yet once more that is not really true. Yes, it costs what seems like big money to buy the first set of winter tires for your vehicle — possibly an inconvenient cost at the time — but once you have them, they will be in use for about six months each year and the rest of the time you will be using your existing summer tires. This means that each set of tires — only in use for roughly six months of each year — will last twice as many years as if you only used one set throughout the entire year. So it may be a pain in the neck to buy that first set of ‘winters’ but its an inconvenience that once again could save lives. And you get better, safer grip all year round by taking this two-sets approach because all-season tires simply are not as versatile in either season.


*Footnote:  Abbreviations such as ESC and AEB can vary from one automaker to another so please use your vehicle handbook to acquaint yourself with what your car does or does not have.




3 Replies to “What is the most important safety equipment on your vehicle?”

  1. Eddie,

    Given the importance of tires. Are there any stat’s that indicate how many crashes there are where worn or unsuitable tires were a contributory factor?
    Excessive speed is indicated in about 35% of fatal crashes, but I rarely read about tires, or inadequate following distances as factors. Although, the following distance is generally self evident in a rear end collision.

    1. That’s an extremely valid question, John, yet it’s one that inevitably attracts what we believe to be an inaccurate and misleading ‘official’ answer.

      It is frequently claimed here in the USA that tire defects or failures are to blame for less than two percent of all crashes, and yet when one questions the origins of this figure, one finds that even in fatal crashes it is actually very uncommon for deflated tires to be forensically examined to establish the cause and more importantly the precise timing of the deflation.

      As a young traffic patrol police officer, I was given the same liberty as my colleagues to seize any deflated tire at a crash scene, with the goal of establishing beyond doubt “whether the tire caused the crash or the crash caused the deflation of the tire.” It was wonderful advice from a weathered old sergeant, and I followed it to the full.

      As a result, I firmly believe that tire defects and failures are a factor in far more crashes than the official line of “less than two percent” claims. But the only way to prove this would be to have a greater proportion of deflated tires at crash scenes properly examined and not subject to mere visual ‘inspection’.

      I’m sorry its not a very tangible answer, John, but I hope it helps.

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