If Drivers Won’t Pay Attention, Brakes Will
By James Kerk

Next to the steering system, the brakes are the most important system in a car. It is the driver’s most reliable ally when coming to a stop especially at high speeds. To improve brakes’ functions and performance, automotive engineers concentrate on minimizing injuries caused by collisions. These engineers take into consideration the moments before an expected impact.

The stability control systems of vehicles have increasingly become more capable of catching spins before a crash. Nowadays, brakes can be programmed to detect panic stops and use maximum force for undecided drivers. BMW, for one, boasts of its ‘active steering’ that can counter overly aggressive moves of drivers to produce the necessary emergency maneuver. The Infiniti brand also offers an auto safety feature that warns the driver when the car is drifting toward an adjacent lane. This is done to avoid fender-bender occurrences.

Advances in technology also produced systems that put the car into protective mode when sensors indicate a collision is impending. The protective mode cinches down seat belts and closed the sunroof and windows. There are also automakers that are working on using computers that are programmed to decide how aggressively to act depending on how closely the driver is paying attention to the road. So far, the newest braking technology covers brakes that apply on their own when a collision seems likely.

The Acura RL is equipped with the Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), which monitors the following distance and closing rate between the RL and the car directly in front of it. The system warns the driver when a collision is forthcoming and helps reduce impact when a collision becomes inescapable. It alerts the driver by giving a warning tone and a flashing light on the dashboard. Then, it gently tugs the driver’s seat belt. Finally, the system applied the brakes forcefully to slow the car. It will happen without any action from the driver to prevent a rear collision. Acura's braking system takes advantage of onboard computers in the car to control features like antilock brakes and pretensioners that pull seat belts taut in case of a collision.

The Lexus Pre-Collision System also operates the same way. When it detects an imminent collision, it retracts the seat belts and primes the brake system so that full braking power will be available immediately. Said system is an option on the Lexus LS and GS models. Volvo brakes already use the system to avoid accidents on the road.

The common denominator of all the pre-emptive braking systems is the adaptive cruise control. Unlike traditional speed controls produced to hold a steady speed, adaptive controls can also maintain a set distance to cars ahead. The car’s motions are in response to measurements from a laser or radar unit. The pre-emptive safety systems utilize existing sensors to monitor cars and stationary objects on the road to evaluate the possibility of a crash.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), of the 6.2 million crashes reported in the United States during 2004, more than 20 per cent were rear impacts. This is the primary reason why automotive engineers have rear end collisions as their logical starting point in creating more functional brakes.

While pre-emptive safety systems are now offered on only a few vehicles, they are expected to become more available in time. Mike Thoeny, an engineer at Delphi, the automotive supplier, said the company was working with several automakers to develop new applications, including systems that use a camera to differentiate moving objects from stationary ones. “By the end of the decade pre-emptive safety systems will also monitor the driver and tailor responses based on alertness, issuing a warning sooner if the driver's eyes are not on the road. We have this technologically ready today," Thoeny concluded. "It's simply a matter of integrating it into the vehicle."


Glady Reign is a 32 year old is a consultant for an automotive firm based in Detroit, Mi. she is a native of the Motor City and grew up around cars hence her expertise in the automotive field.

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