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Active Safety Features – your car’s way of protecting you


Today’s modern cars, even the more budget-priced cars, incorporate a number of safety features to protect passengers and reduce the severity of motor accidents, or even to avoid them entirely.

In the US for example close to 60 million vehicles are equipped with some sort of ADAS (advanced driver-assistance systems) technology, like parking assistance, adaptive cruise control or collision-avoidance systems.  It is predicted that by 2022, the majority of all new vehicles on the market will have at least an automatic emergency braking system.

For the motorist, the first step is understanding the difference between passive and active safety measures. 

Richard Green, national director of SAMBRA (South African Motor Body Repairers’ Association) an association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI) says unlike passive safety, which are mechanisms to reduce injury of the car’s occupants once a crash has already occurred, active safety systems are so smart they can reduce the severity of a crash or prevent it altogether. They do this by constantly monitoring the car and what is happening around the car using special cameras and sensors.”

Green says they can monitor the movement of other traffic and the speed of the cars as well as look out for pedestrians and cyclists – almost like a second set of eyes for the driver.  That data is then matched with what the car is doing. It looks at the speed of the car, whether the driver is braking, if the road conditions are wet etc. to assess if the tyres have sufficient traction or not.

“Active safety really refers to electronic systems which are put in place to manage steering, braking and propulsion. Passive safety features on the other hand lessen injury to the driver and passengers and include seat belts and airbags. “Structural improvements such as crumple zones which absorb the energy of a crash are also considered a passive safety feature,” says Green.

For motorists active safety features are very beneficial as they act as a built-in, simple warning systems, such as forward-collision warnings.  “These can reduce rear-end collisions by up to 50%,” says Green.  ADAS is technology (cameras and sensors) incorporated into a vehicle in order to automate, adapt and enhance the driver’s experience with features that increase safety. “When an ADAS feature is engaged, it might light up a symbol on the dashboard, alert the driver through sound or momentarily take control of the vehicle,” explains Green.

The two types of ADAS technology:

1.            Vision systems recognise and track potential hazards on the road using onboard cameras and complex algorithms.

2.            Radar systems work to calculate the distance, velocity and positioning of approaching vehicles or obstacles.

Here are seven examples of active safety features common in new cars today:

•             Automatic emergency braking (AEB). The car will detect a slow-down or stop in traffic ahead and alert the driver. If the driver takes no action, the brakes will slow the vehicle down gradually. The system can also help the driver to ensure maximum braking force is applied.

•             Forward collision warning (FCW). This technology is similar to automatic emergency braking. It will alert the driver to danger, but will not automatically apply the brake. This is the key difference between the first two technologies.

•             Adaptive cruise control (ACC). An extension of AEB, ACC allows drivers to set the speed limit, just like normal cruise control. However, this technology responds to other road users, braking when necessary to mirror the traffic around it. For example let’s say you set the ACC at 100km/h and began to approach traffic at 80km/h, the vehicle will automatically slow down and keep a safe distance from it. Once the traffic speeds back up to 100km/h again, the car will automatically do the same.

•             Lane departure warning (LDW). This technology stops drivers from drifting over into other lanes. Some instances of the technology can even help the driver avoid gutters and drains. LDW is an important safety system to help prevent cars from driving into oncoming traffic.

•             Lane-keeping assist (LKA). This technology is similar to the above mentioned LDW. LKA goes a step further in helping the driver stay in the right lane by steering the car for up to 40 seconds. An audible, visual, and sometimes haptic alert is given while the car begins to steer back into its lane.

•             Blind spot monitoring. Another handy awareness tool, this technology actively monitors the blind spot over the shoulder, reporting hazards with a warning light. It also is able to detect cars that are in the driver’s blind spot and alert them.

•             Rear-cross traffic alert (RCTA).  This technology allows drivers to more effectively reverse out of car parks and driveways. It is very useful if the driver has reduced backward vision.

“At the end of the day all the technology in the world cannot prevent tragedy and accidents will still continue to happen.  Your chance of surviving the impact are improved with both the car’s passive and active safety measures which work in tandem to keep you safe. Neither category is more important than the other — they just come into play at different times. In the end how safe you are all comes down to you. Research shows that most accidents are still caused by speeding, distracted driving and driving under fatigue.  Prevent accidents by driving at the correct speed limit, with alertness, and with full focus on the road ahead,” concludes Green.

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