Automotive safety is an evolving landscape.
From the first hand-operated wiper blades and rearview mirrors, we’ve arrived at Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), which can warn us of an impending forward collision.
As more and more vehicles incorporate electronics, becoming electrified in one way or another, the usage of sensors and cameras creates the opportunity for even more sophisticated systems to help keep us safe on the road.
Here’s a peek at five safety features you may already have on your car but not know about.
1. Driver Monitoring Systems
Systems that monitor driver alertness aren’t new. Some vehicles use erratic steering to alert you when you’re losing attention on the road.
However, camera-based driver monitoring systems (DMS) go beyond steering tracking.
It only takes a few seconds of inattention for a mishap to happen. To prevent this, DMS monitors your head or eye movements with an infrared beam, warning you if you’re distracted or drowsy.
For example, the Ford Mustang Mach-E will throw an alert if you take your eyes off the road for over 5 seconds. This is great, especially for long-haul drives when road fatigue can really kick in.
Future developments may see DMS used to monitor driver behavior and how they drive, not just where they’re looking. This could benefit in other ways, like helping the vehicle’s systems know the driver’s position to better deploy airbags in a collision.
Besides the safety element, having your car tell you to take a break is pretty cool.
2. Next-Generation Airbags
Today’s airbags can deploy based on collision angle and speed, using sensors to adapt to the occupant’s size and position. However, improving the effectiveness of this safety feature is an ongoing process.
Honda’s next-gen frontal airbag (dubbed the “Catcher’s Mitt” for its odd shape) is a fine example of airbag evolution. This airbag is designed to better protect an occupant by controlling the head movement and deceleration in angled collisions.
Other innovations include the introduction of the far-side airbag. This airbag pops up between the driver and front passenger, reducing person-to-person collisions not addressed by frontal and side airbags.
But what about those external to a crash?
Pedestrian fatality is a tricky problem; one possible answer is external airbags. There have been some design attempts though these haven’t taken hold on a broader scale. We can, however, look forward to more inventive solutions as engineers continue to explore this puzzle.
3. Automatic Emergency Braking
You’re likely familiar with ABS (anti-lock braking system), but maybe not as much with AEB. AEB stands for Automatic Emergency Braking, sometimes called Advanced or Autonomous Emergency Braking.
ABS uses wheel sensors to prevent wheel lock-ups and requires you to press the brakes to work, but AEB doesn’t — which is where the “autonomous” part comes in.
If your vehicle’s sensors detect an impending collision and you don’t react in time, AEB takes over, applying the brakes to avoid a crash or, at least, reduce the impact.
AEB systems vary by car. Some may only apply partial braking power, where you’ll have to continue braking on your own. Some systems only monitor the vehicle ahead, while others can detect pedestrian or cyclist presence to avoid collision with them as well. Some AEB systems may only work at city speeds (typically under 55mph).
The main thing to remember is not to rely on AEB for collision safety. Always stay a safe distance from the nearest car, and keep your eyes on the road.
4. Emergency Steering Assistance
Emergency steering systems come under several different names. Ford and Mercedes call it Evasive Steering Assist (ESA), and Toyota’s version is Emergency Steering Assist, while Volvo has it as Steering Support. We’ll stick to ESA for convenience.
ESA is a neat piece of technology that enhances your driving reflexes. How it works will vary by manufacturer, but the primary goal is the same — to help you maneuver around a stationary or slow-moving object that you can’t avoid by braking.
ESA usually works in tandem with Forward-Collision Warning (FCW) and AEB. It uses data from your radar sensors and front camera to project a safe path around the target object. Some systems add steering torque so you can swerve safely; others may steer even if you don’t. All this happens in a split second to make up for any delayed reaction on your part.
5. Tire Pressure and Tread Monitoring
Tire Pressure Monitoring systems (TPMS) are pretty common on current-day vehicles, alerting drivers when their tires need air.
An extension of this technology is smart tire sensors, embedded in the tires themselves. These sensors help identify when tread-wear calls for a tire change and detect abnormal temperature fluctuations — such as a temperature hike before a blowout. They can also identify small leaks, alerting you of a potential flat.
While their use still isn’t commonplace, smart tires are expected to become a mainstay of EVs first, as this vehicle format usually has larger tires and the necessary electrical links at the wheels.