Gizmos & Gadgets: Vehicle Safety Goes High Tech – Part I

Welcome to Gizmos & Gadgets! In this series of installments, I am discussing the evolution of the standard safety features that are found in your average new passenger car. If you caught my initial article, you were probably amazed at the level of government-mandated safety features that have been incorporated into vehicles over the last 40 plus years. Yet starting with the 2006 model year, automakers took vehicle safety to the next level.
Drivers were introduced to a wider variety of newly optional and standard safety features across a broad spectrum of vehicles. Those features that were only available for the top of the model range began to become available at much lower price points. Here are a few of the features that started to work their way into less expensive vehicles as standard equipment:

More airbags – Up from the driver and front passenger airbags of the 1990’s, today’s vehicles may have upto 10 airbags as standard equipment. In addition to the dual front airbags, the vehicle will have front seat mounted side-impact airbags, and dual head curtain side-impact (front/rear) airbags. Recent models will also include driver/front passenger knee airbags and even outboard rear seat side-impact airbags.

Four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock – Four wheel hydraulic or drum brakes where a “brake shoe” was applied by the pressure of brake fluid against the inside of a steel drum to bring a vehicle to a stop began to be supplanted by front-wheel disc brakes in the early 1970’s. Disc brakes dissipate heat generated by stopping friction better than drum brakes, lasted longer and were less subject to problems with moisture or fade. This allowed for straighter stops and better control under emergency conditions. Automakers started to equip vehicles with four-wheel disc brakes to further improve overall handling and control. This also made the standard anti-lock braking system more effective.

Traction control – Designed to detect slippage of a drive wheel, traction control actually uses braking to slow the wheel to a point where traction is regained. This system is designed to operate with front or all-wheel drive systems – usually upto speeds of about 30 mph. Some later versions are designated as “all-speed” traction control which means pretty much what it says.

Stability control – Otherwise known as electronic slip regulation, dynamic vehicle control or by “brand” names such as “StabiliTrak” (GM) or “Advance Trac” (Ford), this system builds on the traction control system to also detect and prevent the vehicle from sliding or otherwise losing control.

Brake Assist/Electronic Brake-force distribution – These technologies have been engineered to increase control and response to the braking system in the case of an emergency stop. Brake Assist simply allows the anti-lock braking system to stop the car even more effectively. Electronic brake-force distribution allows for the braking system to distribute the force of braking during a panic stop – and in doing so allowing the driver to maintain control as opposed to going into an uncontrollable skid.

So far, we have discussed new standard safety features that were designed to react to a potential emergency situation. In the next installment, I will talk about new technology currently available (and standard in some models) that is proactive in avoiding the emergency long before it becomes one.

Ken Chester, Jr. is President & CEO of Motor News Media Corporation – an automotive news service founded in 1989 as The AutoBuyer Plus Corporation. Featured on numerous television and radio programs, viewers, listeners and readers alike relate to Ken's friendly manner and wealth of information about the many vehicles currently for sale in today's complex automotive marketplace.

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