Modern Active Safety Systems Part 1

Normally, vehicle safety systems are divided into two groups: Active and Passive.

Passive elements are typically those devices which are fitted to help reduce the effects of a collision on the vehicle and its occupants (and, increasingly, other road users - particularly pedestrians). Over the years, the most notable of these have been such things as seatbelts; deformable bumpers; 'impact zones' front and rear; door beams (for side impact protection); airbags; rollover cages and pop-up struts; 'black box' and collision camera technologies and a host of less obvious bits of kit.

Now, as we at Automotional are more concerned with prevention rather than cure, it makes sense to look at the active elements about which it might be handy for you to have an idea.

Personally, although I've loved cars and all things driving since the age of about three, my own needs are pretty modest: something in which the heating and radio work; goes as I would wish and, more importantly, stops and steers as I would wish and expect. It's also quite useful that I understand vehicle dynamics and the 'tyre trade off' and how to brake and steer in an emergency and have spent hours and days receiving and giving skid training and once upon a time ran a small racing team.

Trouble is, most of us expect our vehicles to behave as we would like them to but we have little idea or experience of how to deal with them when they don't. That's where active systems come in to play.

Up until now, the most important (but often most misunderstood) is ABS. This has been standard fit to European cars for several years. Unfortunately, the vast majority of drivers believe that ABS is some sort of advanced braking system which can (oh no it can't!) defy the laws affecting a vehicle in motion. Yes it's an 'advanced' system insomuch as it's relatively new but its sole reason for existing is to give a driver an opportunity to steer at the same time as they try to steer out of the way of trouble. It's great in slightly slippery (dry or wet) conditions but ever so difficult to 'manage' in snow and ice - because every time it detects slippage, it releases the brakes so you can end up, effectively, without brakes and your only means of (potentially) avoiding a collision is to steer.

When ABS systems first came to mass-produced cars in the UK from Sweden, the manufacturers elected not to have an on/off button on UK cars because they deemed us to be too dim to know how and why to turn the system off. And, in light of the fact that generally we are not taught some of the finer points of driving, they were probably right.

Anyway, a few tips about the use of ABS:

  • ABS stands for antilock braking system (not advanced or alternative or absolute or awesome) but it should be thought of as:
  • Allows Braking and Steering
  • When ABS engages, it can feel as though something's very wrong with the brakes and there's a natural temptation to take your foot off the brake pedal. In most circumstances don't
  • Remember my last article about dealing with skids and LOOK towards where you want to go/steer and not where you THINK you'll end up
  • The more grip or traction you have with the road surface (through the right tyre choice, 4x4 transmission etc.) the more effective ABS will be
  • Conversely, the less grip there is (Ice, some snow conditions, mud, gravel...) the less able ABS will be to stop you but...
  • You WILL maintain a degree of steering control

Have you given yourself enough time and space to use it?

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