Unit 5

Technology applied to safety

Technology applied to safety Technology applied to safety

There are many systems to help make driving safer, but most of them are cloaked in names and acronyms that not everyone knows or understands. Furthermore, some are more efficient and recommendable than others or else more appropriate for a specific purpose. This section will help you understand what this alphabet soup of letters really means.


These are the initials for “Anti-lock Braking System”. Emergency braking in a vehicle without ABS can cause the wheels to lock unless the pressure applied to the brake is modulated. If that happens, you lose the ability to steer and even though you turn the wheel, the vehicle carries on straight ahead.

ABS systems let you maintain control of the vehicle in the event of an emergency stop, preventing the force applied to the brakes from locking the wheels, thereby avoiding hitting an obstacle or having a collision. The system's “brain” constantly controls the speed at which the wheels revolve using built-in sensors which act on every brake clamp specifically to avoid locking.

With this system, all that is required in emergency stop situations is to press the brake pedal to the floor and let the system do its work. Meanwhile, you should continue controlling the steering and take advantage of not losing control of the vehicle at any moment. It is also advisable to fully depress the clutch pedal to prevent the engine from stalling.

The anti-lock braking system has been compulsory in all cars sold in the EU since 2003.

Influence on safety: very high

Emergency Brake Assist

Emergency Brake Assist, which some car companies call BAS (Brake Assist System), has been compulsory in the EU for vehicles manufactured since 2010.

It has been shown that the average driver does not achieve full effectiveness from the brakes in a situation that calls for an emergency stop. Furthermore, after pressing hard on the brake pedal, the pressure on it usually eases off before it should. Emergency brake assist works in combination with the ABS and not only automatically increases the force the driver applies to the pedal when necessary, but also maintains it at maximum pressure right up to the last moment. In conjunction with ABS system it is very effective.

Influence on safety: high.

Electronic Brake Force Distribution

We don't always carry the same load in our car. Sometimes we travel alone, sometimes all the seats are occupied and the trunk can be empty or full. To adjust your braking to these varying load factors and to ensure the front and rear axles receive the correct amount of brake pressure, the EBD, or Electronic Brake Force Distribution system, transmits greater or lesser brake force to each axle.

A further development from the EBD system which is being used more and more in vehicles is Cornering Brake Control (CBC). This follows the same principle, but in this case the electronic distributor can apply more or less brake force to the wheels on the left- or right-hand side of the vehicle, and even to each wheel individually to improve stability.

Influence on safety: high.

Traction controls

When you accelerate, if the two drive wheels of the vehicle do not have identical grip you can lose traction in the tire with the least grip. This situation is most common on road surfaces with reduced grip due to rain or ice. In the case of loss of traction in front-wheel drive vehicles, there can be jerkiness or strange movements in the front axle; in rear-wheel drive vehicles, loss of traction can be even more dangerous as it can cause skidding.

Making use of the ABS sensors, Traction Control Systems, known as TCS, can calculate the number of revolutions of each drive wheel and compare one with the other. If one of them accelerates, the system detects the beginning of a loss of traction and therefore applies light brake pressure to the wheel that is skidding or else reduces engine power even though the gas pedal is being pressed, depending on each manufacturer. It is particularly useful to have a traction control system when driving a high-powered vehicle or when regularly driving in areas with a lot of rain, ice or snow.

Influence on safety: high.

Electronic Stability Program (ESP)

The Electronic Stability Program (ESP) or Electronic Stability Control (ESC) is perhaps the most important technological contribution to the field of safety in recent times, in that it is a system capable of intervening so the vehicle maintains the driver's intended line should an unforeseen situation or driving error occur. Logically, the effectiveness of stability control has a limit determined by the speed of the vehicle and the available traction.

Basically, what ESP does is counteract the two possible effects a vehicle is subjected to when it strays from the line intended by the driver, known as understeering (which is when the car turns less than intended on a bend and drifts outwards) and oversteering (which is when the car turns too much and comes off the bend to the inside). ESP is also capable of maintaining stability and the driving line in sudden maneuvers such as the “moose test”, which is when an unexpected obstacle in the road has to be avoided like a rock, an animal or objects from a truck that has shed its load.

The way that ESP corrects this loss of driving line is through selective intervention on the brakes of each wheel, creating moments of torque around the central shaft of the car towards one side or the other, as required. If intervention on the brakes is insufficient, ESP can also reduce the power that the engine supplies to the drive wheels. In the most highly-developed systems, and thanks to new electronically-assisted servo steering, ESP can also act on steering direction to correct these losses of driving line. Moreover, new generation ESP systems include additional functions such as automatically putting the brake pads into contact with the brake discs to dry them off rapidly when it rains.

Influence on safety: very high

Adaptive Cruise Control

Some car manufacturers refer to this as ACC and it is a more sophisticated development of cruise control. As well as maintaining a constant speed, it also maintains a safe distance from the vehicle in front.

A radar positioned at the front of the vehicle is responsible for informing the car's computer about the speed of the vehicle in front and how far away it is. The most advanced systems even have a “stop-and-go” function and are capable, in combination with automatic gear shifts, of bringing the vehicle to a standstill and then setting off again without the driver touching the gas pedal or the brake.

Influence on safety: high.

Speed limiter

An example of something simple having an enormous influence on safety. All that is needed is to program the car with the maximum speed it can reach in order to avoid risks (and fines) due to excessive speed. If you exceed the pre-programed limit, the vehicle can respond in a number of ways: in some cases it simply emits an audible signal and in other more advanced systems the audible or visual warning is combined with an intervention on the engine. Some have automatic override systems, whereby if you accelerate sharply to overtake, the system disconnects and you can exceed the maximum speed selected with no problem.

Influence on safety: medium/high.

Proximity warning system

A very useful driving aid is a collision or proximity warning system. It works using a radar located at the front of the vehicle (the same one that collects the information to operate the ACC system), which is capable of detecting both moving and stationary vehicles. If the system identifies that you are getting too close to the vehicle in front, it activates a warning which can be acoustic, visual or a combination of the two, warning drivers to stop accelerating and apply the brakes.

In some models, if the system detects an imminent danger of collision, it can prepare the vehicle's passive safety systems, tightening seat belts, and closing windows and the sunroof to maximize the effectiveness of the airbags.

The most advanced systems include assisted braking, which automatically applies the brakes if they identify that the driver is not responding to auditory alerts and the distance to the obstacle detected is critical.

Influence on safety: high.

Involuntary lane departure warning system

Another simple, inexpensive and effective system. With this device, the driver receives a warning when an unintended lane change is detected, which is when a vehicle departs from the lane it is traveling in without the driver indicating any intention to do so (due to drowsiness or distraction). The most advanced systems also act on the steering to keep the vehicle in the middle of the lane.

Influence on safety: high.

Fatigue detection system

When people drive in a state of drowsiness or extreme tiredness, they move the steering wheel in a very characteristic way. An analysis of lateral movements within the lane recorded by a video camera allows the attention levels of the driver to be assessed and a warning is displayed if the system detects that these levels drop below a certain predetermined level. At that point the system sends an acoustic warning.

Influence on safety: high.

Blind spot monitor

This is a safety feature that is rapidly becoming included as standard. It started in top-of-the-range cars, but some manufacturers are now including it in more affordable models. They work by using cameras positioned on the exterior wing mirrors or with radar modules mounted on the bumper which monitor whether a vehicle is in the so-called "blind spot", which is out of sight of the rear view mirrors and the driver. The system warns the driver that there is a vehicle located in this zone by illuminated signs on the rear view mirror itself.

Influence on safety: very high

Signal recognition system

This is one of the latest marvels provided by technology. The vehicle, by means of special cameras, is able to read road signs at long distance and show them on an eye-level control panel moments before the vehicle gets to them. It is especially useful as a driving aid in its more advanced versions, capable of not only reading the sign but also interpreting it. So, for example, in the case of a speed limit sign, the system can let us know if you are above the limit, a very useful detail for urban driving.

Influence on safety: high.

Adaptive headlights

On long journeys at night it can become tiresome having to constantly change between dipped and full beam headlights, and after a while it is not unusual to forget we are on full beam, thereby dazzling other drivers.

Now technology has provided a solution to this problem: a special sensor is able to “sense” the headlights of the other vehicles and decide when to go from dipped headlights to full beam or vice versa.

In the most advanced systems, using the technology in xenon headlights to produce full and dipped beams, adaptive headlights have additional features and can even modify the light beam.

Influence on safety: medium.

Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)

Along with lack of tread and general deterioration, having low tire pressure is one of the most dangerous conditions to drive with. Not only does it affect safety but also fuel consumption, because tires with less pressure than the level recommended by the manufacturer can increase fuel consumption by around five percent.

The TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System) is a simple and inexpensive system which should be compulsory for all vehicles. Taking advantage of the ABS sensors, the system measures the revolution speed of the wheels, and if it detects a variation from a preset level, it triggers a warning on the dashboard. The “weaknesses” of this system are that it does not identify which wheel has the problem and it does not register minor pressure loss.

Other more precise but more expensive and complex systems use pressure sensors on each wheel and show the information on the dashboard.

Influence on safety: high.

Instrumentation projected onto the windshield

Known as HUD, an acronym for Head-Up Display, this technology derives directly from fighter planes. What it does is project the most important driver information directly onto the windshield so the driver does not have to look away to check the instrument panel. Checking information on the HUD saves up to half a second compared to checking a conventional instrument panel, as it is in the driver's field of vision and there is no need to look down and then refocus on the road ahead again.

Influence on safety: medium.

Pedestrian avoidance system

Some distance warning systems with assisted braking are capable of detecting the presence of pedestrians, but some manufacturers have now developed specific pedestrian avoidance systems capable of stopping the vehicle before knocking down a pedestrian. It works so long as the vehicle is traveling below a predetermined speed, which is usually around 30 km/h.

To detect pedestrians, these systems use information collected by a radar and a video camera, usually located in the interior rear-view mirror, and capable of processing the images it receives from traffic to recognize the silhouette of a pedestrian.

Influence on safety: high.

The limits of technology

Up to this point we have described safety systems which, on a daily basis, are being incorporated into the majority of vehicles, including medium and low-priced ranges. But we don't want to finish this section without making a very important recommendation.

All this technology enables us to perceive more than our senses are capable of, making driving easier and enhancing safety. Sensors that identify objects in the car's blind spot or systems that read road signs and display them on the dashboard all help to make drivers more aware of their surroundings.

These systems make our lives easier and safer, but it is still necessary to pay full attention to the road. For example, having a system for controlling tire pressure does not absolve you from making regular checks with an accurate pressure gauge; and assisted braking does not mean you don't have to apply the brake when circumstances call for it.

The biggest danger from these driver assistance systems is that we overlook our own responsibility and allow ourselves to lose focus, which will inevitably lead to an accident.