Modern Active Safety Systems Part 2

ESP (electronic stability programme) or ESC systems represent the next big step in active vehicle safety, integrating as they do ABS and braking systems, Traction Control (TCS) and anti-skid technologies. If any readers are offered the opportunity to attend a practical demonstration of ESP in action, I'd strongly suggest that you take up that opportunity.

I say that because there is a risk that the more technologically advanced cars become, the more 'distanced' the driver is from what's happening at the point where the wheels meet the road.

There is a raft of driver aids coming on to the market these days and some of them can take a bit of getting used to, for example:

  • Lane departure systems - some of these will warn you when the software believes that your vehicle is on the point of 'wandering' out of lane. Some other systems will physically override your steering input and adjust the attitude of the vehicle to bring it back in lane. If you are not used to this function, you can get quite a surprise as you find yourself faced with the prospect of 'fighting' the steering wheel, which seems to (does) have a mind of its own!
  • Brake Assist has been around for a few years now. Its function is to use a number of parameters to work out how much retardation the driver requires and, if it 'thinks' the driver isn't applying a sufficient amount of brake pedal pressure, to take over the braking in order to stop in a shorter distance than the driver would otherwise have achieved. Some of these systems are graduated and linked to the vehicle's passive safety devices, increasing braking effort and tightening seat belts, pre-arming air bags and so on.
  • Intelligent cruise control systems that determine for you, the driver, what a 'safe' following distance is from the vehicle in front.
  • Collision avoidance systems which pull together all the technologies and, arguably, take some of the control away from the driver. Or at least potentially the 'feeling' of having control.

And we haven't even mentioned auto-parking technologies nor the fact that in at least one major US city, totally driver-less cars have been racking up the miles, pretty much unnoticed, for the last couple of years.

Yep, there's certainly something akin to a technological revolution taking place in modern vehicles that most of us are hardly aware of.

I recall a few years ago being fairly surprised (to say the least) when, whilst investigating an 'unusual' kind of roll-over incident, a senior representative of the manufacturer's technical department asked me if the relevant car was still around. It wasn't; it had been written off and long since sent to the scrap yard. "That's a pity," said the technical chap "if you'd been able to bring the car here, we could have plugged it in to our diagnostics and probably told you exactly what had happened. We could even, for example, have told you how many times and when the car had been kerbed during its life".

It almost seems as though we are in some sort of transition period between what most of us consider to be driving and a brave new world where our safety and those of other road users will be more and more inextricably linked to the modern wonders of technology that are our cars.

In the meantime, it's incumbent on us as drivers not to rely too heavily on technologies which are, after all, really only required because of our inadequacies.

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