The ins and outs of Car Safety - Common Features Explained


The ever-increasing power of technology has seen some amazing developments in the capabilities of our vehicles in the last couple of decades.

The car is no longer simply an object used for transporting people from A to B but now more of a thinking machine. The modern motorcar has the power to help make its owners more competent at parking, stop at ever higher driving speeds and even improves our cornering skills with the aid of traction control, ABS and independent computerised suspension. Car safety has indisputably become a major consideration when buying a new or used car today, and because of that, the boffin's who design and build our car are using increasingly sophisticated computer programs that to aid in design and safety features.
Today the manufacturers are pitted against each other in fierce competition, each looking to gain the edge over the other - the vast majority of new cars today are equipped with nothing less than state of the art technology. Click4Warranty are able to provide car owners with car warranty insurance to cover unexpected failure for the majority of these clever technological improvements over older cars once the manufacturers warranty expires.

Luckily within the EU we have the Euro NCAP safety rating. It rates cars' overall safety. There are new ratings scheduled for 2009, including tougher assessments. Euro NCAP also reveals its high ambitions for manufacturers: without ESC - Electronic Stability Control, a system which can drastically reduce the occurrence of serious accidents - the achievement of five stars will no longer be possible.

Euro NCAP's new rating will be of a new 5-star single overall vehicle safety rating, replacing the current star ratings in use since 1997. This new star rating, Euro NCAP believes, will provide the simplest and clearest advice. The overall rating will be made from scores achieved in four areas of assessment: Adult Occupant, Child Occupant, Pedestrian Protection and Safety Assist.

Safety Assist will allow Euro NCAP to consider driver assistance systems and active safety technologies. Vehicles will now need to do well in each area of assessment to achieve a good overall result. In particular, it will be impossible for a car maker to achieve five stars in the tested vehicle without the standard fitment of electronic stability control (ESC) in the majority of variants sold. Statistics reveal that ESC plays such a major role in reducing deaths on our roads, Euro NCAP believes no car should be able to achieve five stars without it. First results for vehicles tested under the new rating system will be released in February 2009.

The main car safety improvements of recent years


Brakes


Needless to say, it is far more important that a car be able to stop better than it accelerates. Drum brakes are now thankfully a thing of the past. Modern advances now include dual brake master-cylinders, which retain some stopping power when part of the system fails, and of course ABS (Anti-lock Braking System), which maximizes the benefits of brakes that can overpower tyres. ABS is the more widely recognised; however it is the unfortunate case that the majority of drivers are unaware of how to use it effectively. Brake Assist technology has resulted from a study that showed that most drivers do not push the brake hard enough in an emergency event. It therefore enables sensors to detect "panic" braking; Brake Assist applies maximum brake boost and therefore decreases stopping distance.

Airbags


It is estimated that airbags save 12,000 lives every year. Ultimately they stop you from hitting the steering wheel and other large solid objects that may come into contact with the vehicle. Airbags also help stop basal skull fractures. The current airbags are specifically made to cause less injury upon activation while still providing enough cushioning upon impact to reduce fatalities. It is now standard in many makes to have Dual-Stage Airbags and Side Supplement Airbags. Side airbags can greatly reduce injuries, as passengers are often more vulnerable than in front or rear end crashes, where there's more of a "crumple" zone to protect them. Some luxury cars also include supplemental airbags, such as with BMW's Active Knee Protection and Head Protection systems.

Tyres


Let's face it, without good tyres, you're simply asking for trouble. Tyres have always come in all shapes and sizes: 14", 15", 18", Pneumatic, Steel-Belted, Radial Tyres, tubed and tubeless. For those who are really crazy about tyres there are also dry, wet and extreme (Snow / Ice ) weather versions. Without spending just a little extra money on a half decent set of tyres, all these fancy advanced braking systems become far less efficient. Generally speaking, you get what you pay for, but even a budget set of tyres will save your life as long as you follow your car manufacturer's guidelines and remember to check your pressure and tread regularly. There is such a vast amount of material regarding tyre safety and technology - for a handy guide have a look at the RoSPA site.

Seatbelts


It has been the law to wear a seatbelt in the UK for 25 years (25th anniversary at the moment!). They work. The government says seatbelts save about 3,000 lives a year & 250,000 serious injuries. They too along with many other parts of a car have been updated. Newer vehicles are usually fitted with pretensioners, which clinch the belts super tight in the instant the car's computer senses a crash. Load limiters then soften the force. Still, some 100 people will die this year because they weren't wearing seatbelts. So, 'clunk-click-every-trip'.

Electronic Stability Control


As the name suggests, this helps drivers maintain control. ESC compares steering and braking inputs with the car's lateral acceleration, rotation and individual wheel speeds - a complex calculation that only the cleverest of in-car computer systems can deal with. Very basically, if there is a difference between what is intended and what is detected, then brakes can be automatically applied and the throttle can be set back until the vehicle is back on track. All very clever stuff, which could well become a standard feature in all cars in not so many years to come.

Pre-Collision Systems/ Rollover Protection


This technology uses methods to sense and prepare for a collision. When a sensor signals an impending crash, the system takes pre-emptive action such as pretensioning the seat belts, pre loading the brakes and even aligning airbags to better protect occupants. Airbags can be inflated from the ceiling in top-heavy SUV's to protect occupants in case of a rollover.

Computers


Without all of these powerful computers on-board we'd be driving as we did thirty years ago with little to protect vehicle occupants. Without computers, ESC and ABS would not be possible and those marvelous airbags wouldn't be as effective. It is widely acknowledged that the drivers are the weakest link. Advances in computer science and programming are proceeding at such an alarming rate that it is probably not such science fiction to conceive of a time when no skills will be required to drive at all - all you need to do is have a look at Formula One Racing technologies to get an idea of just how much is possible.

Dynamic Head Restraints


Drivers just don't adjust their headrests properly to prevent whiplash, so some manufacturers have designed active head restraints that move into more effective positions. For example, Volvo's Whiplash Protection System (WHIPS) and Saab's Active Head Restraint (SAHR) have both significantly reduced both short and long-term injuries due to whiplash by designing seats, backrests and headrests which work in conjunction with the driver and his position upon impact.

Blind Spot/Rearview/Obstacle Sensors


Again, it is car safety king Volvo in the lead here: their Volvo S80's Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) uses a camera on each side view mirror to scan a driver's blind spot and indicators in the corner of the front windows alert the driver to the presence of objects. Rear-vision cameras linked to obstacle sensors help make drivers aware of things they may not see behind the vehicles, and some models also include visual aids that allow you to align a vehicle whilst parking.


Adaptive Headlights


A fantastically simple thought here. This technology directs light from the headlights in the direction that the steering wheel is turned, helping to illuminate the desired path. Unfortunately you do currently have to be in a luxury car to reap the benefits.


Head-Up Display


This has also been a logical thought process, enabling the projection of key information from the dash to the windshield just in front of the driver. This technology has been used in fighter jets for years now and was even incorporated in some luxury cars in the USA many years ago. Believe it or not, so was night vision, also build in to the heads-up display. Some of the information available in your heads-up display includes your speed, revs and possibly also your navigation system. Ultimately the goal here is to keep the drivers' eyes on the road.

Other recent technologies have included Adaptive Cruise Control, Voice Activation, Navigation Systems, and Night-Vision Camera Systems. It is pretty certain that technologies will continue to increase and become more advanced within the near future, rendering some of the amazing safety features we are now seeing on only top-end makes and models standard features - at least that is the hope. And that can only be a good thing if our roads will be safer as a result. Hold tight!