In other words, passive safety technology is all about mitigating the consequences of an accident during and after impact, as from the moment that first contact is made. Sometimes these measures are referred to as ‘secondary’ safety technology.
Passive safety systems: what are they and how do they work?
Today, a range of built-in mechanisms protect occupants of a car in case of a crash, such as:
Airbags are cushions that are inflated extremely quickly upon impact (and subsequently deflated) to protect passengers during a collision. They provide a soft restraint between the occupants and the vehicle interior during the crash, which can reduce or even prevent injuries.
Early airbags protected front-seat occupants from frontal collisions. Since the turn of the century, they are combined with more advanced side-impact airbags as well.
Seatbelts (or safety belts) are restraint systems that keep passengers correctly positioned during an accident or sudden stop, thereby reducing the impact of the vehicle interior on the body and preventing people from being ejected.
Seatbelts have significantly evolved since they were first introduced. Today’s seatbelts are pre-tensioned: they are tightened almost instantly upon impact in order to prevent passengers from being jerked forward excessively.
Also known as crumple or crush zones, deformation zones take out the kinetic energy of a crash in a controlled way. This is done through specifically designed areas of the vehicle that deform and crumple during an accident to absorb the impact.
Over the past decades, passive safety systems have made a major contribution to road safety by reducing the consequences of accidents. As a result, most European vehicles now score highly in crash tests and passive safety technology is reaching a level of maturity.
Passive measures will remain essential in the future and won’t disappear from vehicles. Technologies and design measures that limit the impact of a crash may be taken for granted today, but without them the death toll on Europe’s roads would be far greater.
However, passive safety systems are only really effective if vehicle occupants are wearing seatbelts, which means that seatbelt reminder systems – and enforcement – are also important.