Top 10 Automotive Safety Technologies
These are the top automotive safety systems to consider when buying a car.
No matter how careful and skilled you are behind the wheel, driving can be dangerous and collisions tragic in terms of damage to people and property. Fortunately, car companies have made huge advances towards protecting drivers, passengers and even pedestrians in the past decade through technology and research. Passive safety systems such as air bags and crumple zones mitigate damage after a crash, while more recent active safety technologies prevent accidents before they happen.
Here are the top 10 safety technologies available on modern vehicles – all of which you should keep in mind when shopping for a new car.
1. Seat Belts
The seat belt may seem low-tech by today’s standards, but this federally mandated old-school safety feature has been steadily improved by automakers to provide extra protection for car occupants. Pre-tensioning seat belts, for example, tighten in anticipation of an imminent collision using sophisticated sensors in a vehicle. And Ford recently introduced inflatable seat belts for rear-seat passengers that act as mini air bags to reduce their force and bruising effect on small children during a collision.
2. Air Bags
The automotive airbag – officially known as a Supplemental Restraint System (SRS) since it complements seat belts to protect occupants in a crash – is another federally mandated passive safety system. When they first went into widespread use (in late 1980s) airbags were installed only for the driver; they eventually migrated to the front-passenger side of all cars. Airbags also initially got a bad rap because of early injuries to some passengers, particularly children and small-statured women. Front airbags now use a sensor to determine the size and weight of an occupant, as well as their distance from the airbag, to reduce the chance of injury. Modern dual-stage “smart” airbags have been mandated since 2005 and deploy with varying levels of force depending on the severity of a crash.
3. Side/Side-Curtain Air Bags
Airbags proved so effective they quickly spread to other parts of the car in an effort to protect all occupants, and particularly rear passengers, during more than just frontal collisions. Side airbags, as the name implies, inflate in side-impact (or “T-Bone” crashes. These can be as damaging and deadly as frontal collisions. Seat or door-mounted side airbags were the first to appear as torso protection. Larger side-curtain airbags drop from above the side windows to further cushion the blow and reduce head injuries for front and rear-seat passengers. Some cars also have specific airbags to protect the knees.
4. Crumple Zones
If the force of a collision can be reduced before reaching the cabin of a vehicle physical damage to the car’s occupants can be dramatically diminished. That’s the idea behind a car’s “crumple zones.” These special sections of a vehicle’s body, which are usually found in the front-end design but can also be integrated into the side and rear structures, are specifically designed to absorb the impact and energy of an accident.
5. Anti-Lock Braking Systems
Before Anti-locking Braking Systems (ABS), a major cause of vehicle accidents occurred when a car’s wheels “locked up” and lost grip with the road. The loss of traction, particularly on slippery road surfaces or when the driver stabbed the brakes in a panic situation, often preceded an impact with another vehicle or stationary object. ABS automatically regulates brake-fluid pressure at each wheel to prevent a lock-up, therefore allowing the driver to better maintain directional control of a vehicle. Unlike seat belts, ABS is not federally mandated. But it is standard or optional on most new vehicles.
6. Electronic Stability Control
Losing control of a car in a skid, either because of a slick surface, road hazards such as animals, or just poor driving or judgment, is also a common cause of accidents. That’s why Electronic Stability Control (ESC), marketed under various brand names by automakers, has become an almost ubiquitous feature over the past decade. It’s now federally mandated to be included on all new vehicles sold in the U.S. starting with 2012 models. ESC uses an onboard computer to detect skidding and loss of steering control and automatically applies pressure to individual wheels. It can also reduce engine power until traction is regained.
7. Bluetooth Hands-Free
Bluetooth allows a compatible mobile phone and vehicle to connect and communicate so the driver can make and receive calls “hands-free.” This is done using controls on the steering wheel or dashboard and, in many vehicles, via voice recognition. Bluetooth began as a feature on high-end cars but it is now widespread and found even in economy cars. And because many states now have laws that only allow a driver to use a phone hands-free you will likely need Bluetooth in your next car for two reasons: to safely carry on a phone conversation behind the wheel, and to avoid a ticket.
8. Roof Crush Standards
After determining that an inordinate amount of injuries and deaths were the result of vehicle roofs collapsing in rollover accidents, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tightened standards for roof strength. The new standard will start being phased in for all vehicles sold in the U.S. starting in September 2012. It requires a roof to withstand a crushing force equal to at least three times the vehicle’s curb weight.
9. Rearview/Exterior Cameras
Blind spots when backing up are the source of many expensive fender-benders. It’s also a common and tragic cause of thousands of “back-over” deaths and injuries to young children each year. This problem has been compounded by the popularity of minivans and SUVs that have limited rear visibility. The solution: rearview cameras that let a driver see what’s behind a vehicle when backing up through a display screen in the dash. In some luxury vehicles, additional cameras allow the driver to also view the sides and even a full 360 degrees around the vehicle.
10. Blind Spot and Collision Warning
Blind spots can also cause serious accidents when a driver changes lanes into another vehicle they couldn’t see. Using cameras and sensors, blind spot detection systems alert drivers with visual and audible warnings to vehicles in these no-see-‘em zones. Similar technology is used to identify (and issue a warning) when a driver is approaching a vehicle ahead at an unsafe rate of speed. Some systems will also prepare the car for collision by tightening the seat belts, closing the windows and placing the airbags on standby, while others will even automatically apply the brakes to avoid or mitigate damage from a frontal collision.
ADAS: The Next Evolution of Vehicle safety
Active safety systems that take control of the car to avoid or reduce damage are known collectively as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). And whether its Nissan/Infiniti’s Lane Departure Prevention, Volvo’s Pedestrian Detection or Audi’s Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop & Go, they’re becoming more common. These high-tech safety systems, along with the passive safety systems that have been around for years or even decades, will make the road safer for everyone.