Car Safety Features – Technology that Protects
When people think of ‘technology’, they tend to imagine computer displays and state-of-the-art entertainment systems, but when it comes to cars, technology is part of the fabric of every system, representing the evolution of the car – a vehicle now well into its second century.
Car safety technology is at the forefront of modern car design. While customers may be cooing enthusiastically about the level of comfort in the seats, or the power delivered by the engine, the engineers who have been working on the vehicle for months, and even years, have had safety at the centre of their game plan.
As a driver, you are in charge of a metal box travelling at tens of miles per hour along a road. A collision can be catastrophic, which no one wants – and every ounce of technological advancement is poured into making sure it doesn’t happen, and making sure that if it does, you and those around you are as safe as possible.
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The shell of the vehicle is the core of the car’s safety. A well-designed body takes the force of an impact and spreads it around the car, dispersing the focus so that no one point of the cabin bears the brunt of any impact.
A safety feature that has been mandatory in the UK since 1983, seatbelts do a huge amount of work keeping you and your passengers safe.
With pre-tensioners to pull up the slack should an impact occur, and load-limiter systems to ensure there’s enough give to prevent cracked or broken ribs as the belt holds you tight, seatbelt technology is subtle and forgotten about in today’s driving experience.
Many cars now also employ an alert to let you know if you are about to drive without a properly fastened seatbelt – some of these smart seatbelt reminder systems also detect when a passenger seat is occupied and warn the driver in the event of a seatbelt not being fastened elsewhere also.
When we imagine airbags, it is usually a picture of a front-deployed driver bag to cushion a blow between face and steering wheel! The truth behind a full airbag system is far more encompassing than such an image suggests.
Dual-stage airbags monitor the deceleration of the car, the occupants’ seating positions and more, and can deploy the airbags at differing speeds and locations to provide the best response possible.
Seat-mounted side airbags and side curtain airbags are used to protect when a side-impact is made, and many modern cars are now including knee airbags to prevent the occupants from having their legs damaged and crushed in relevant circumstances.
Since its introduction in the UK in the Mercedes S-Class in 1980, the airbag has prevented thousands of deaths on British roads.
One of the common injuries that comes as a result of a car crash is whiplash. Having a good head restraint, properly set for the height of the passenger, can go a long way to prevent this controversial injury.
In fact, a correctly adjusted headrest is the best safety feature for preventing whiplash – more important than airbags or similar features!
Headrests are another feature tested by Euro-NCAP that can be seen in the safety report for the car. Make sure they are properly fitted as they could save your life.
While all cars feature the basics described above, new safety features in cars can vary hugely across different manufacturers and age of model.
What is new now may become a standard future car safety feature, much as airbags are today. Until then though, be sure to learn about any car you intend to buy or lease to ensure it has the safety specifications you are looking for.
Here are some of the available car safety features and how they work:
Electronic Stability Control (ESC)
This can come under a number of different names and three-letter acronyms, from ESC, to ESP (Electronic Stability Program), and DSC (Dynamic Stability Control).
No matter how it is styled, the technology works in a similar way – using a computer system to measure traction and avoid skidding by automatically applying individual wheel brakes where needed to keep the car going in the right direction.
ESC is not designed to aid performance or to make up for poor driving – it is a safety feature meant to aid when the driving conditions are poor (such as wet road surfaces).
It is considered an advancement on anti-lock braking technology and works by comparing the driver’s intended direction (as determined by the angel of the steering wheel) with the actual direction of the car and compensating accordingly.
ESC has been found to be incredibly effective in preventing accidents – so much so that it became mandatory on all new cars in the EU in 2014.
Other terms for ESC from different manufacturers include ASC, DSC, DTSC, ESP, ESP+, VDC, VSA and VSC.
Electronic Brake-Force Distribution (EBD)
Once anti-lock brakes were the buzzword for the latest in braking technology.
Today, EBD is the descendent of that technology, providing computer-assisted braking that slows each wheel independently to the others and, as the name suggests, distributes the braking force across all four wheels.
This distribution helps avoid any loss of control or swerving during braking and keeps the car in a straight line as it slows to a stop.
In addition to preventing swerves, it also significantly reduces braking distance – an important level of safety for anyone who might be in the path of the vehicle, as well as for those inside the car.
Adaptive cruise control
Another feature that has been around for many years is cruise control.
The early version simply allowed you to set a speed on the car and have it maintain that velocity until such time as the cruise control was disengaged. At that time, it was not really considered a safety feature at all.
Modern adaptive cruise control takes the concept a stage further, with radar able to ensure that the car maintains a safe distance between itself and the car in front. If the car ahead slows down, so too do you, right down to a full stop if necessary. Then, if the way becomes clear, the adaptive cruise control can accelerate up to its designated speed.
Adaptive cruise control is very helpful on longer journeys and helps ensure you keep a safe distance on motorways and other long-distance roads.
Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB)
With self-driving cars on the horizon, one of the technologies that filtered down first from that research was autonomous emergency braking.
Using cameras and other sensors to monitor the road ahead, AEB allows the car to apply the brakes should it detect an emergency, often before the driver has had the time to register a problem.
It starts by audibly alerting the driver to a potential problem and if the driver doesn’t do anything to avoid a collision, takes over and performs an emergency breaking manoeuvre automatically.
With impressive reaction times, AEB is a huge additional layer of safety in modern cars and though usually available only as an option, is finding its way into the standard safety technology portfolio of many cars.
Another feature which suffers from manufacturers unable to come up with a generic term, lane assist may be known as a ‘lane keeping system’ or similar, but the effect is much the same – an additional safety feature designed to let the driver know when the car is moving out of the chosen lane, helping avoid potential collisions.
Lane assist also comes in two flavours – passive and active. The passive safety feature merely alerts the driver to the possibility of changing lanes at speed (the system automatically switches off at low speeds where changing lanes occurs with regularity), where the active version utilises control of the power steering to gently keep the car in the lane.
It’s not quite self-driving – take your hands off the wheel to ‘force’ the system to drive down the motorway for you and it’ll turn off, allowing you to crash at will.
Lane-keeping technology is there as another layer of AI assistance to your driving, paving the way for the technology to come.
Blind-spot warning systems
Sitting alongside lane assist are the blind-spot warning systems. Introduced by Volvo as BLIS (BLind-spot Information System) in 2004, variations on the theme are available in many modern cars.
Utilising sonar, radar and camera technology, a blind-spot warning system keeps an eye on the parts of the road you can’t see – namely that annoying bit just behind your right shoulder, and flashes to alert you on the wing mirror should you indicate to move into an already occupied spot.
With enough accuracy to detect a bicycle coming alongside, the blind-spot systems are another breakthrough which helps keep the road safe for all users.
Augmented visibility aids
There can be a fight between ensuring the car has a body shape designed for safety, aerodynamics and even pure beauty, and making sure there’s enough field of view to provide an effective level of visibility for driving.
Car manufacturers have been struggling with these compromises since the very early days, and often things like rear-view visibility lose the battle.
Compensating for that with modern technology though has become commonplace. Parking cameras are becoming standard on many models, and the radar technology that powers lane assist and blind-spot advancements is also there to help with general visibility.
Many modern cars have a substantial array of sensory equipment built into them and can provide a fully-accurate map of the car’s location with respect to other objects around it.
These augmented visibility aids serve to help in manoeuvring the vehicle at low speeds, from simple parking-assist to alerts if a child appears while reversing.
Almost the inverse to cruise control, where a top speed is maintained on long stretches of highway, the speed limiting controls are there to prevent you crossing a safe speed in built-up areas.
Setting your speed limiter to the speed limit of the area is a simple and effective method to keep your license clean.
It’s not a hard lock – in case the limit needs to be broken to avoid an accident or other hazard on the road, the system will detect strong acceleration and disengage, allowing the driver to maintain full control of the car.
During standard day-to-day driving, however, the limiter prevents accidentally sneaking above the speed limit, making the road safer for drivers, passengers and pedestrians.
Sometimes the smallest touches are the ones we appreciate the most. Active headlights are one of the subtler safety features that can make all the difference.
It’s simple – if you turn the wheel, the headlights adjust accordingly, meaning a corner is properly lit up before you get to it, and the light is shining where you are actually looking, rather than forcing you to navigate your way through shadows.
Some of the more advanced versions use cameras to analyse the road and make adjustments accordingly to avoid startling oncoming cars - but whether it is the ‘simpler’ version or a more advanced tech, active headlights can be a great boon to night-time drivers.
Attention monitoring systems – keeping you awake!
Long hours of driving can take its toll on any driver, no matter their experience or skill. One of the greatest enhancements in car safety features is the attention monitoring systems.
By measuring the driver’s awareness, position and other factors, the car itself becomes aware when it is time to take a break and can alert accordingly – either sounding an alarm or vibrating the seat to give you a physical nudge.
Of course, this alert is designed to convince you to pull in and take a break and should never be relied upon to keep you awake under pressure. Always do the right thing and stop when tired.
Tyre-Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS)
Making sure you have the right tyre pressure can be the difference between good handling of the car and a potential crash.
TPMS indicators can help make sure you are keeping your tyres at a good level for the load and road conditions.
TMPS can work in one of two ways – direct and indirect. Direct versions utilise an in-tyre sensor to send information regarding the pressure to the car, while an indirect TMPS calculates the tyre pressure through data sent to it from the braking system – a change in wheel speed relative to the other wheels is most likely due to a change in rolling circumference due to a loss of pressure.
Whichever the car has, it is worth listening to. Keeping your tyre pressures are an optimum level is easy and can avoid many accidents.
Isofix child seat mounts
With its easy-to-fit system and secure connections, an Isofix child seat system provides a safe way to ensure your child’s seat is properly connected to the car.
It is a standard which has been around for many years and obtaining an Isofix base and seat can be done from all child-seat retailers.
Isofix provides a stable alternative to using a seatbelt to affix the child’s safety seat and is especially convenient if the child’s seat is going to be taken in and out of the car on a regular basis.
There are pros and cons to the system in terms of safety, however. While it provides a fixed connection to the car body for the child seat and thus gains in stability, that rigidness can also mean that more of the energy of a car crash is transferred.
A standard seatbelt setup, if correctly installed, allows for some ‘give’ should a crash occur and can offer an amount of extra protection in that way.
Impact protection for pedestrians
To a pedestrian, a car is a huge metal object travelling at speed. Anything that can be done to mitigate the danger of an impact is a huge safety consideration for car manufacturers and they offer a variety of impact protection and pedestrian protection measures to help keep the vulnerable road users safe.
Take a look at any potential car purchase to see what has been designed to mitigate the risk of serious injury for pedestrians. From deformable bumpers to pop-up bonnets, there are many measures in place to decrease the severity of any accident.
With safety a key selling point for all cars, as well as an important moral stance for everyone, manufacturers are keen to continue to improve road safety for all users.
As new technologies become available, they move from additional optional safety features to recommended ones and then compulsory technologies across the market.
In the early 1980s, this article would have been discussing seat belts and airbags in the same way it now looks at adaptive cruise control and autonomous emergency braking. There is no ‘most important’ safety feature – they are all excellent additions to helping you drive safely.
Remember though, the best technology in the world cannot prevent human error (at least, not until fully self-driving cars become standard!).
As the driver, you are responsible for making sure your car is in a good state of repair, that you are not driving tired or under the influence of anything that might affect your decision making, and that you and your passengers are using the safety features of the car appropriately - from buckling up your seatbelt to keeping an eye on the blind-spot warning system.
If you have been in an accident where the driver was not adhering to safety regulations, or where technology has failed to provide the level of safety it is designed for, we can help you. Give Non-Fault Claims a call today or fill in our contact form to have one of our advisors to contact you at a convenient time.