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Lap belts no match for modern safety

Lap belts no match for modern safety

With the difficulty of converting older cars from lap to diagonal seat belts, motorists would be better to consider looking at a newer, safer car altogether.

A call for cars to have lap belts banned came from the Huntly coroner last week when commenting on a fatal crash in Wellsford last year. A 77 year old woman died when a crash impact snapped her body, causing massive internal damage.

The Managing Director of Hyundai Automotive NZ, Philip Eustace, said massive improvements in safety technology and lower costs had put safer vehicles within reach of average motorists when they were once reserved for high end European cars.

“Unfortunately though with the increase in older second hand imports the Kiwi car fleet is now older than ever before, with an average age of 11.9 years, compared with 9.9 years in 1992,” explained Mr Eustace.

“While many of the imported older vehicles may look the part, they simply do not incorporate the safety features that are standard now on vehicles like Hyundai.”

Mr Eustace said the cost of converting a car from lap belts to diagonal belts was usually between $1,500 and $2,000. This was often more than the value of the car they were installed in.

Any belt conversion requires an engineer’s approval and notification on the vehicle’s registration details. Often car design meant it simply was not possible to install diagonal belts in older cars, particularly when the lap belt was in the centre rear seat.

Modern seat belt technology includes a variety of “hidden” safety features that accentuate the inherent safety of the belt itself, said Mr Eustace.

“For example Hyundai vehicles have front seatbelt load limiters and pre-tensioners, both features that come into play only in the event of a collision.”

The pre-tensioners bring the seatbelt into closer contact with the occupant, holding the motorist firmly in place on collision. Load limiters minimise excess belt pressure as the occupant moves forward, controlling the torso’s forward “whip.”

“These are things you just don’t get in older cars with lap belts, and unfortunately we have seen some awful incidences where occupants are either killed or seriously maimed by the belt’s inadequacy,” said Mr Eustace.

Hamilton woman Ana-Marie Le Roux was seriously injured in a crash three years ago while wearing a lap belt. She has joined the call for their banning. Le Roux has only just returned to a normal life, and said her bill alone for surgery and rehabilitation would amount to “over a million dollars.”

Philip Eustace of Hyundai said the cost involved in getting older cars converted meant motorists would be better off putting the money towards a deposit on a newer, safer vehicle with advanced seatbelt protection.

“It is all about making a sensible and safe choice for you and your family. At Hyundai all of our passenger cars have 3-point lap diagonal (ELR) safety belts, as well as minimum safety specification including ABS and EBD (Electronic Brakeforce Distribution) braking technology, and a minimum of dual front airbags.

In addition to these minimum safety standards, recent Hyundai models made available to New Zealand drivers, including all Tucson, Sonata and Grandeur variants, include a minimum of 6 airbags, an advanced Electronic Stability Program and BAS (Brake Assist) braking technology, with more to come as Hyundai aim to set the standard in minimum safety specification in the industry.

Further highlighting Hyundai’s commitment to safety in motor vehicles was the decision in July 2004 to introduce a safety pack to all new vehicles sold, including fire extinguisher, reflective safety vest, and first aid kit.

“For a very affordable cost, owners enjoy the comfort and safety of vehicles such as Sonata and Tucson that have achieved five star frontal and side impact crash safety ratings in recent NHTSA NCAP testing, the highest possible,” Mr Eustace said.

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