The evolution of car safety technology is a fascinating progression that has been driven by a number of influences throughout the years. Government mandates, activist groups, and industry analysts have resulted in the introduction of everything from seat belts to lane departure warning systems.
Some of these technologies have directly led to vastly reduced incidences of accidents and fatalities, and others have had mixed results. There’s no doubt that overall car safety has seen remarkable gains over the last few decades, but there have been more than a few speed bumps along the way.
Adaptive Cruise Control
Adaptive cruise control combines a conventional cruise control system with some type of sensor. Most of these systems use radar or laser sensors, both of which are capable of determining the relative position and speed of other vehicles. That data can then be used to automatically adjust the speed of the vehicle that’s equipped with adaptive cruise control.
Most adaptive cruise control systems also include some type of warning system if a collision is imminent, and some are capable of automatic braking. Some of these systems are also capable of operating in stop and go traffic, but most of them cut off at a specific minimum speed.
Traditional headlamps illuminate a fixed area in front of a vehicle. Most systems have two settings, and the higher setting is designed to increase sight distance at night. However, high beams can be hazardous to oncoming drivers.
Adaptive headlamp systems are capable of adjusting both the brightness and angle of the headlamps. These systems are capable of angling the beam to illuminate winding roads, and they can also automatically adjust the brightness level to avoid blinding other drivers.
Some technologies are designed to prevent accidents, but some car safety features are meant to protect the driver and passengers during a collision. Airbags fall into the latter category, and they first appeared as standard equipment on certain makes and models in the US for the 1985 model year. According to data accumulated over the next decade, it became clear that airbags save lives and lead to an overall increase in car safety. According to an NHTSA analysis, driver fatalities were reduced by 11 percent in vehicles that were equipped with airbags.
However, airbags have also been shown to present a danger to young children. While this essential safety feature has been shown to save the lives of front seat passengers over the age of 13, younger children can be harmed or killed by the explosive force of a deploying airbag. For that reason, some vehicles include an option to turn off the passenger side airbag. In other vehicles, it’s safer for young children to just ride in the back seat. Also, adults that are shorter (like me, 4ft 11) should also use caution with airbags because that is the size of a child.
Anti-Lock Brake Systems (ABS)
The first anti-lock brake systems were introduced in the 1970s, and this technology is the basic building block that traction control, electronic stability control, and many other car safety features are built on.
Anti-lock brakes are designed to prevent brakes from locking up by pulsing them much faster than a human driver can. Since locked up brakes can lead increased stopping distances and a loss of driver control, anti-lock brake systems greatly reduce the likelihood of certain types of accidents. That makes ABS an essential car safety feature, but these systems don’t reduce stopping distances under all driving conditions.
Automated parking systems use a number of sensors to guide a vehicle into a parking space. Some of these systems are capable of parallel parking, which some drivers find difficult. Since automated parking systems typically use an array of sensors, they are able to avoid low speed collisions with parked cars and other stationary objects
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