New safety systems protect us from ourselves

Drivers are the weakest link when it comes to driving safely, according to Jason Forcier, Bosch’s regional president of electronics.

“So what can today’s vehicles do to help prevent crashes?”

In avoidance, the first equipment was anti-locking brakes (ABS). No matter how hard you push the brake pedal, the wheels will not lock up. When wheels do lock up in hard braking, it increases stopping distance and takes away your ability to steer your vehicle. ABS was introduced in high-end cars and now is on all vehicles sold in this country.
The next wonderful avoidance device to be widely installed was stability control. This system has the ability to sense, through electronics, when your vehicle enters into a slide. Using the brake system, it will apply the brake on one wheel to help bring the car out of the slide. I have driven a vehicle with stability control disabled and then working; it really works well.
Some vehicles have a “heads-up” display super-imposed on the windshield so the driver can see things that normally can’t be seen, particularly at night.
Now becoming more common are lane-change detection systems, in which a camera looks at the lines on the road and, if you drift out of your lane without a turn signal on, it will warn you.
Blind spot detection sensors are being used so if you start changing lanes while a vehicle is beside you, the system will sound an alert to warn you. One of my favorites is forward-looking radar, which detects when closing speed rates indicate a crash and, again through the magic of electronics, will either start putting on your brakes or will “prime” the brakes for an emergency stop. These devices will even amplify the pressure applied to the brake pedal so stopping happens quicker.
A common cause of crashes on freeways is driver fatigue. A select few vehicles have a camera that observes the driver and will “wake” them when his or her head nods off. Passenger jets have “drive by wire” controls now. This means there is no longer any mechanical linkage between the control inputs and flaps of the plane.
In most newer vehicles, the gas pedal is just hooked to an electronic unit that controls the amount of power the engine gets. It used to be a cable went from the gas pedal to the carburetor and the more you pushed the gas pedal, the more the throttle was opened.
In 2013, Infinity has a “drive by wire” system for steering, in which a sensor knows the position of the steering wheel, and when it turns a motor on the steering gear turns the front wheels. This is so the electronic unit can take more control of your car and make better decisions than you as the driver. For example, it might nudge you back in your lane or take over in a slide. As safety precautions, there are redundant systems and mechanical links that can be activated as a failsafe. It’s likely that in the future your car will “know” where others are in the vicinity and be able to prevent collisions in other ways. For example, if you are approaching a green light, your car may slow down or stop because it senses that another car is running a red light.
Like many drivers, I think about how these control units seem to be taking away my ability to control my vehicle — but the fact is, we drivers are the weakest link when it comes to driving safely.

- George Rode


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