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Top 15 Vehicle Safety Features in Modern Cars

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A car is on fire because it crashed into a smart phone. This picture reminds us that we should not text and drive.
Over 64% of all auto accidents involve cell phone use of some kind. Technology hurts. But good news is… technology can also fix the very problem it caused.

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Original image courtesy of QuoteInspector.com (CC BY-ND 2.0).

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Evolution. Not just for the living, but even technology have matured and grown tremendously over time. Now in the 21st century, vehicle safety technology is undeniably one of the sector that is seeing huge growth. The safety features present in modern generation cars, whether it is a sedan or SUV, helps to keep you, and the world safer.

Here are the top 15 safety features found in modern vehicles.

Before we start, it can be helpful to understand the nuances of vehicle safety features. Broadly speaking, the vehicle safety features can be classified into 2 categories, namely active safety features and passive safety features.

Active safety features help drivers to evade accidents and collision by numerous means. Some car makers also refer to these safety features as Primary Safety System. These safety systems constantly monitor the situation and will trigger immediately when they predict that an accident is about to take place.

On the contrary, the passive safety features kick into action after a collision or accident has taken place. These features are meant for lessening the extent of injury and harm to the passengers in the affected car. It’s better to drop half a cone of ice cream than the whole thing, right?

Active Safety Features

#1 Tire-Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)

TPMS helps to monitor our tire pressure. Here’s how.

TPMS is an electronic system that alerts the driver if the air pressure in any of the tires on the vehicle is lower than 20% of the recommended levels. It informs the driver by showing a blinking light in the car’s dashboard. In some cars it may be in the form of an audio visual alert. The TPMS kicks into action well before the tires reach a condition that can lead to accelerated wear, or possibly accidents.

There are two variation of a tire-pressure monitoring system, namely….

  • Direct TPMS.
  • Indirect TPMS

In direct TPMS, pressure sensors are placed directly on each wheel to assess tire pressure in real time. In indirect TPMS, wheel speed sensors are used to constantly monitor the roll of each car tires. If one tire roll more than the rest of the tires, the ECU will detect the fault and show up as a warning light on the dashboard.

Limitation: Not all car manufacturers follow the same standard for deploying TPMS in their models.

#2 Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC)

ACC, as explained by Engineering Explained. Couldn’t have done it better ourselves!

An adaptive cruise control keeps your vehicles at a safe distance from the vehicles in front. This gives you enough reaction time to respond to any emergency manoeuvre that may be required.

To activate the system, you simply need to press the “ACC” button. Then, you can adjust the maximum cruise speed using a “+” or “-” button on the steering wheel. On top of that, you can also choose how far behind you want to follow the car in front.

Once the system is activated, sensors, cameras and radars will gauge the distance of the vehicles ahead. Based these parameters, the ACC works in alliance with another active safety feature (e.g: forward collision warning). If the traffic in front is light, the vehicle speeds up by increasing engine output. Similarly, when there are vehicles ahead, the system will apply the brakes to slow down.

However, keep in mind that ACC can only apply up to half the maximum potential of the brake, to preserve drive comfort. Afterall, it’s a cruise control, not a self-driving car! Human intervention is still required to control the car. Lastly, the efficacy of the adaptive cruise control drops in harsh weather conditions.

#3 Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB)

Euro NCAP demonstrates the importance of AEB. You’ve got to see it to believe it.

Similar to ACC, Autonomous emergency braking is a vital active safety technology that slows our vehicle down. Only difference is that it’s a hard brake rather than a speed control. The purpose is to slow down the vehicle significantly in a short span of time to evade collisions with vehicles ahead.

AEB was introduced back in 2009 by Swedish car giant Volvo. It takes vehicle safety to a whole new level, especially in pesky traffic conditions. It uses the radars and cameras to detect the distance of the vehicles ahead and apply braking to avoid collisions.

Different car brands have their iterations of AEB. Subaru, for instance, uses the technology in its EyeSight car safety suite. These systems react faster than human drivers in most of the cases. This can be helpful in avoiding collisions with cars ahead and evading the clash altogether.

Limitation: In pesky city traffic, this safety system can act in a hyperactive manner and apply brakes quite frequently, hampering the ride experience.

#4 Electronic Stability Control (ESC)

ESC helps us “escape” from nasty drifts.

Electronic stability control is a major active safety feature that aids in improving the handling of our car, more specifically the lateral motion. In another words, it minimizes the chances of our car drifting sideways uncontrollably during sudden evasive manoeuvres or rainy days.

How Electronic Stability Control works, begins with a series of sensors.

  • Yaw sensors. It monitors the z-axis of our car.
  • Steering angle sensors. The sensor detect the position of our steering wheel.
  • Wheel speed sensors. To monitor the tire rotational speed.

These sensors constantly monitor and feed information to the on-board computer. When the driver is about to lose control of the vehicle and drift, the on-board computer is able to identify that at a fraction of a second and immediately take remedial action.

The ESC can apply braking at the relevant wheel to regain vehicle control. For example, if your car is drifting to the right, the ESC will apply brake to the left tire to pull your vehicle back to running straight. Alternatively, the ESC could also reduce the engine power output by closing the throttle.

ESC is effective in reducing instances of severe vehicle crashes and preventing rollovers, thus preventing number of casualties caused by such accidents. It has been estimated that the implementation of ESC alone is able to reduce single vehicle accidents by a whoopin’ 30%. Now, that’s what I call effective.

Limitation: If the driver does not interact properly, ESC cannot work as intended. The benefits of ESC can be negated if the driver speeds up too much or drives in an inebriated state. It does not steer the car and ESC uses whatever traction the road surface offers. It cannot generate traction when there is none.

#5 Traction Control

Traction control helps prevent the tires from slipping. This video by Toyota sums it up really well!

While Electronic Stability Control is responsible for the sideways handling, Traction Control is responsible for forward and backward handling.

Traction Control is a safety feature that prevents the tires from slipping as a result of traction loss to the road surface. A wheel slip is more common on slippery surface like ice. You’ll feel that the wheels are spinning as you step on the gas pedal, but your car is still not moving, as if your car is suspended mid-air.

To prevent that from happening, Traction Control uses wheel speed sensors to monitor the rotational speed of all four tires. If one of the wheel is slipping, the wheel will rotate significantly faster than other wheels that are firmly gripped to the ground. The on-board computer detects this speed difference at a split second and will apply brake to the slipped wheel to reduce its speed, and therefore reducing the wheel slip. You can think of it as the opposite of anti-lock braking system.

However, it is crucial to know that traction control only helps to make the most out of the road traction. It CANNOT increase traction when there is none (e.g: a perfectly smooth ice). On a truly frictionless surface, vehicle equipped with traction control will be just as helpless as vehicles without traction control.

#6 Reverse Camera

A familiar feature that we see in modern cars nowadays that makes reverse parking that much easier.

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Original image by Josh McConell (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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This requires no further introduction! The reversing camera is a camera fitted at the rear side of a vehicle that lets the driver see what is behind the vehicle clearly on a computer screen. It is useful for parking the vehicle without hitting other cars behind. Some may argue that a traditional rear mirror does exactly the same thing, so why do we need to pay extra for this?

Well, the reverse camera truly shines when we are talking about avoiding hitting anyone behind the car. This can be helpful when you are in a place with kids playing around. Imagine having a kid walking by or sitting behind the car. Because they are so short, there is no way you can see them through a traditional rear mirror view and you may accidentally reverse into them. With a reverse camera, you get to see everything behind the car.

Limitation: Like other car cameras, reversing cameras may fare poorly in inclement weather conditions, like heavy rain.

#7 Blind-Spot Detection / Monitoring

Especially helpful when it comes to detecting smaller sized items. For example, motorcyclists.

The blind-spot detection systems are used to alert the drivers when cars, motorcyclist, or pedestrians get into a certain angle that we cannot see. In the automobile sector, blind spots refer to the regions outside a car that that driver cannot see clearly. The vision is typically blocked by the window pillars, rear seat headrests, or just being too close to the car in general!

To fix that, blind-spot detection system deploys electronic detection device on the sides of the vehicles which either emits electromagnetic waves or captures real-time images with a camera. If the sensors detect a vehicle or object getting in the blind spots, the driver gets alerted by the blinking light on dashboard or an audio visual alert signal to tell you “Hey, there’s something in your blind spot. I don’t know what it is, but pay attention!”

Every car maker has its distinct approach on this technology. Volvo calls its Blind Spot Information System and it was the first company to launch automated blind spot detection, back in 2005. Ford uses radar-based detectors and drivers get light flashing on the car’s outside rear view mirror. Nissan’s Luxury car wing Infiniti offers two built-in systems- Blind-Spot Warning and an additional Blind Spot Intervention system.

Limitation: The Blind-Spot detection or monitoring systems do not work equally well on all types of roads! They work best on multi-lane roads with high speed limits.

#8 Lane-Departure Warning

We tend to get very sleepy from all the overtime work. This works like a charm to prevent drifting off lane. 🙂

As is evident from the name, this active safety technology alerts the driver as he/she is about to cross the lane marking unintentionally. The sole mission in life of this technology is to wake the driver up when he gets absent minded or feels sleepy.

How does it works?

The technology is aided by a camera mounted on the windshield that always watches the lane markings on the road ahead. It is part of the driver assist system. If the car is about to veer out of lane, the system generates an audible alarm or audio visual warning that nudge the driver. Some cars even have systems that vibrate the steering wheel to wake the driver up.

Limitation: The Lane-departure warning works only when the road ahead is clearly marked. It will not work when there is heavy rain blurring the vision or road is covered by snow. Lack of clear road marking will also hinder its functioning.

#9 Lane-Keep Assist

Now staying in lane takes even lesser effort. What a great invention.

Lane-keep assist is the ultimate wombo-combo that works in symphony with Lane-departure warning to ensure the car stays within lane at all times. While Lane Departure Warning will alert the driver during unintentional lane drift, the Lane Keep Assist feature will take the required actions to bring the car back into designated lane.

The modern generation cars have improved Lane-Keep Assist technology that doesn’t only prevent the car from drifting out of lane, but it helps to keep the car aligned properly at the center of the lane of roads. Motorcyclist are going to appreciate this a lot! It also uses cameras fitted outside to monitor lane markings.

Limitation: Same as Lane-departure warning.

#10 Adaptive Headlights

Don’t you just wish that your car have these when driving up to Genting Highlands.

Driving at night can be very tricky, especially if the headlights are not illuminate where you need to see. Here’s what I mean. While regular headlights can illuminate the road ahead, they light up in a linear way. When steer your car to the left or right, you need more vision on the direction that you are turning, but normal headlights will only shine straight ahead. That may leave out objects, animals or smaller cars at the side of the road.

And for this reason, adaptive headlights feature has been invented to improve visibility. Adaptive headlights are made in a way that they illuminate the road ahead based where you want to go. It uses a self-leveling system that allows itself to adjust its trajectory by up to 15 degrees. So when your car is going downhill, the adaptive headlights will tilt upwards and illuminate the road further ahead, instead of just shining down onto the road close to you.

Some adaptive headlights can also be speed sensitive so it adjusts quicker if you are driving fast. Some cars also are equipped with automatic high beams that turn on and off based on ambient lighting on the road.

Limitation: Can be quite costly.

#11 Pedestrian Detection System

It detects pedestrian or objects ahead and help you stop your car to prevent accidents.

Pedestrian Detection system is among the advanced active safety features that come in handy in pesky urban traffic. It helps the drivers from hitting careless pedestrians and kids on the road ahead. The system works with a front mounted camera and detects slowly moving objects/persons ahead. If the driver has not applied brakes, the system intervenes and brings the vehicle to a halt to avoid hitting the person/kid/animal. It is found in almost all GM models and Volvo also uses it extensively. The latter has radar and camera based detection system that debuted in 2013.

Limitation: typically this system works at lower speeds and at times can be hyperactive.

Passive Safety Features

#12 Dual-stage / Occupant-sensitive Airbags

Simple, straight to the point. This guy doesn’t explain things in dual-stage! Fantastic video.

SRS Airbags are the most common and essential safety feature in any car nowadays but not all cars are equipped with the same number and types of airbags. The airbags inflate when a collision is detected and it prevents the drivers and other occupants from getting injured. Airbags are positioned at the front and sides and some cars also have knee airbags for added protection.

However, modern generation cars are often equipped with dual-stage or adaptive airbags. No, it doesn’t have two airbags. And no, it does not deploy one airbag upon collision and then deploy another one to hit you right in the face. I know I know… The name can be very deceiving but let me explain.

A dual-stage airbag has two inflators. One inflates up to 70% of the normal airbag power while the other makes up the remaining 30%. The purpose of this is to only inflate the airbag with appropriate power so that the airbag doesn’t come into contact with the passenger too violently.

The technology has become advanced enough to initiate airbags after gauging factor like vehicle speed, position of occupants and severity of the collision. In the event of a collision with smaller impact, the airbag will inflate to 70% capacity and in a severe crash, it will be fully inflated.

Limitation: In some rare cases, air bags failed to inflate as the steering was twisted badly. The airbags may not offer adequate protection in all kinds of crashes.

#13 ISOFIX Child Seats

ISOFIX child seats is something that parents should consider investing in. It keeps your children safe.

Those car owners with kids usually opt for ISOFIX child seat fixtures. It is a passive safety feature that keep the children in an optimal seating position that helps to reduce the chances of a child in the car getting hurt.

Think about this, all cars are designed for adults. When the car manufacturers tweak the position of the seatbelt, the height of the chair, they are fitting it for the adults. The seatbelts will rest on the chest of an adult, but that also means it would often wrap around the neck of a children. It doesn’t keep the children in place and it can choke the children in the case of an accident. To add to that, our car airbags deploy at an explosive (literally) force that is capable of causing a fatal injury to a fully-grown adult, let alone a child. So if the children is not seated in the optimal distance away from the airbag, it can be deadly.

That is where the ISOFIX seat mounts come into the picture. It is a global standard for child seat fitting system. Made by Volkswagen in alliance with Britax-Roemer in 1997, ISOFIX has 3 points that secure a child well in the event of a crash. The seat also have side protections, while being more comfortable for the children!

Limitation: It may reduce the chance of a kid getting hurt but does not offer total protection from injuries.

#14 Passenger Safety Cell

Nowadays, most carmakers deploy special design and structures around the passenger seating area to absorb impact of collision. They also include crumple zones in the design that ensure the cage structure is not morphed enough to cause injury to the passengers inside. Various carmakers use different names here. Typically steel alloy and aluminum are used to form the safety cell. Hyundai calls it ‘Hive’ while Mazda has a term ‘Skyactiv’.

Limitation: May not offer expected protections from all types of collisions.

#15 Automatic Crash Response

Speed is key when it comes to an emergency. Automatic crash response takes care of that.

After a car accident has taken place, the occupants in the affected car may not be in a position to communicate to family and others immediately about the situation. This is where the Automatic Crash Response setup kicks in. Many of the GM cars are equipped with this feature and same can be said about the Ford models. The drivers can use voice commands post crash to contact emergency services through this system. It is a part of the infotainment system of the car, usually. It also sends the GPS location of the vehicle so that help can reach it soon. Some of these systems also open car doors and sounds the horn.

The Bottom Line

While the active and passive car safety features help avoid accidents to a large extent, they cannot act as a substitute for safe driving! No safety feature can undermine the importance of driving in an alert and safe way.

Anyway, if we’ve missed any safety feature, let us know in the comment section below and we’ll include it into the article. Until then, drive safe and drive smart!

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