Bag it
Serious injury, sometimes life threatening, has been avoided due to air bags. If the manufacturer offers you air bags as an option, take it

One of the most important and effective safety fitments in today's cars is a seat belt. It has saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

The second life-saver is the air bag. Yet, people don't see it that way. Some manufacturers offer air bags as an option, most people bye-pass it. Why? They are expensive. So is life. The same person may spend Rs. 50,000 on a music system but not for air bags.

Why an air bag and what does it do? Most common type of air bags are for the front-seat passenger and driver. A typical air-bag system has a air bag control unit - ACU. It has a number of sensors that monitor impact force, pressure sensors, seat-occupancy sensors plus more in case of a collision. The ACU may also deploy seat-belt pre-tensioners, which means the seat belt will not allow the seat occupant to move a millimetre. It locks in instantly; the ACU computes the need for air bags. The air bags explode open, in about 20 milliseconds, inflated by nitrogen, an inert gas. It provides a cushion-barrier for the occupant and prevents him/her from coming into contact with the steering wheel, dash board or the windscreen.

The air bag stays open only for a micro-second. As the occupant collides with the air bag, the body weight squeezes the bag and gently the gas escapes in a controlled manner. In a second or two it's all over, the air bag has deflated and the passengers are safe. Serious injury, sometimes life threatening, has been avoided. That is the value of an air bag. If the manufacturer offers you an air bag as an option, take it.

Some manufacturers offer air bags on the side windows. In case of a roll over, occupants will get thrown around. The frontal air bags plus side-curtain air bags hold the passengers in a safe cocoon. It's a life saver. The UN predicts that by making air bags and ABS compulsory in all cars there can be a drop by 50 per cent on road fatalities!

At present there are about 1,97,000 people killed on Indian roads every year. It is the highest in the world.

The anti-skid breaks brakes (ABS) are another option manufacturers give you. Go for it. To explain it briefly, it allows you near-perfect braking on all types of road conditions. While braking hard, there is a tendency for the brakes to lock and thereby causing a skid. The ABS does not allow the brakes to lock. Thanks to the monsoon we do have the wettest roads in the world. The ABS is a must. We also have the worst road surfaces in the world. The ABS will cope with them.

Assisting the ABS in doing a marvellous job is EBD - electronic brake force distribution. How does this help?

When a car corners at speed on tarmac, the centrifugal force transfers weight on to the two wheels against the corner. So the two wheels with extra weight on them will get more traction, braking is effected. The EBD makes sure all four wheels get equal traction and prevent a skid.

The EBD also help on uneven surfaces. Sometimes, while overtaking or to make way for an oncoming vehicle, on a narrow road, two wheels may be on gravel and two wheels on tarmac. While braking, the two tyres on tarmac will provide more grip than the other two tyres. This will lead to a possible skid and destabilisation of the car. The electronic brakeforce distribution system makes sure that all brakes work in harmony, irrespective of the surface, thereby preventing a skid.

Happy Motoring !