Road safety is an emotive issue, especially in South Africa where there appears to be a chasm between what could be considered acceptable road safety and what seemingly is generally a free for all, where cars are not roadworthy, driving without licenses is widespread and people who have licenses, came by them in somewhat dubious circumstances.
This paints quite a depressing and worrying picture does it not? Fortunately motor manufacturers have been pre-emptive in evolving road safety purely by ensuring that very useful and technically adept road safety systems are installed in their cars. This goes a long way to assisting drivers to drive more safely and be more aware of their surroundings on the road. The affordability of some of these systems, is still a sticking point, however a few are generally available.
The primary road safety aid that we can unpack is the vehicle braking system, and most cars these days have what we call ABS braking- Anti Lock Braking. In the past if you braked hard it was likely you would spin off the road or worse. An anti-lock braking system or anti-skid braking system (ABS) is an automobile safety system that allows the wheels on a motor vehicle to maintain tractive contact with the road surface according to driver inputs while braking, preventing the wheels from locking up (ceasing rotation) and avoiding uncontrolled skidding.
So the best method is to brake hard, and then ease off, and brake again, which would allow for a more controlled stop.
Another useful braking system is EDB- Electronic Brake-force Distribution. This is more of a cure than a preventative measure, and EBD will control how much braking is needed to be delivered to each wheel, weight being concentrated at different points to the four wheels depending on what drive mode is engaged. It literally stabilises the car at the point where it is most likely to lose control.
Finally we have Autonomous emergency braking also known as Active Brake Assist, which is available in fairly upmarket cars. Autonomous emergency braking takes that idea one step further by either applying the brakes automatically without any driver involvement or warning the driver of a possible accident and then applying the brakes automatically if he or she doesn’t respond.
It can also be coupled to detect pedestrians who might walk in front of the car at any time, and it will apply the brake if the driver does not react fast enough to the obstacle.
So right there, we can rely on technology to help us drive more safely than a decade or so ago.
So, how can suspension help us to drive more safely? By delivering a drive that is smoother, more quiet and more stable on the road, thereby ensuring that you are more alert, comfortable and more skilled to be able to keep the car on the road.
Multi –chamber air suspensions, increased damping with electronically controlled adaptive damping systems all help with these issues. By raising and lowering the suspension on different road surfaces and by extra damping these technologies will ensure a more smooth controlled drive. The different control modes in cars such as ECO, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus also help to configure the vehicle to the correct driving dynamics, which the driver can react to and use to enhance his skill level and therefore be safer on the road.
Attention Assist and Crosswind assist can warn the driver of drowsiness & being inattentive by beeping if you drift lanes, or actually steering you back into your lane. Likewise with crosswinds, it gently stabilises and nudges the vehicle back into its lane.
Another cool driving feature is distance pilot control, which reacts if your vehicle gets too close to a vehicle ahead, it brakes & reduces speed until you are either a safer distance, or have passed that vehicle. PRE-SAFE® Impulse Side: this system is part of the Driving Assistance package PLUS. If a lateral collision has been detected and is imminent, it can move the driver or front passenger away from the danger zone in a sideways direction by way of precaution.
To do this, the system inflates an air chamber in the side bolster of the front seat backrest nearest the side of the imminent impact in a fraction of a second, thus increasing the distance between occupant and door and, at the same time, reducing the forces acting on them.
Active emergency stop assist is linked to the former dynamic, and acts if there is no recognizable feeling of steering for a period of time. The car is then decelerated to a safe standstill in its lane, and other drivers are warned by hazards being activated.
Active Blind Spot Assist can now also warn of the risk of a lateral collision in typical urban traffic at low speeds and, in addition, as before, correctively intervene at the last moment to prevent a collision at speeds above 30 km/h and activate the PRE-SAFE® belt tensioners.
Illumination has also evolved to make it safer on the road. Gone are those old yellow halogen headlamps that used to glow in the dark like an animals eyes, and yet, cast little light whatsoever. High-resolution MULTIBEAM LED headlamps, each with 84 individually controlled high-performance LEDs, automatically illuminate the road with a hitherto unsurpassed, precision-controlled distribution of exceptionally bright light – without dazzling other road users.
Lastly, we have the standard safety net of the past, known as the humble seat belt, which has saved a multitude of lives over the years. For years these have been based on an inertia reel, which locks on impact and ensures, to some degree, that forward momentum is slowed down. These days we also have the addition of airbags, which inflate in the case of collision, and they come in the form of front, side, knee, curtain etc.
Without all of these advances in technology, driving would be far less safe today and we can be thankful that manufacturers have pushed the envelope to ensure that driving a car is a pleasurable, yet an essentially safe experience. Technology is key, but the actual driver ability and the state of the roads are pertinent favyoes. Drivers need to adhere according to the rules of the road, or chaos will reign. The condition of roads needs to be maintained too,as all the safety drive systems in the world will not
be equipped to counter seismic sized potholes and the like.