Seat belts are now standard fare for safety. Just last week, in GITEX 2011, Ford revealed a seat belt innovation that doubles up as airbags. In the last decade, safety has crossed many milestones and here are the top 10 we have chosen. Apart from the “wake up warning” which is fabulous but a rare privilege yet!
There are plenty of reasons to long for a classic car from the grand old times, but safety needn’t be one of them. Before the 1960s, safety had to ride in the backseat while manufacturers went full throttle on style and performance. It’s a pretty obvious fact in Ralph Nader’s book “Unsafe at Any Speed,” which in turn helped push through the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act in the United States. Not much later, seat belts became a US standard, and the world followed suit in due course.
Seat belts are standard fare now. For decades, airbags have offered drivers a second line of defence, while shatterproof safety glass has avoided many serious injuries. Just in the recent years, car manufacturers have started to equip cars with high-tech safety devices like blind-spot detection, rear-view cameras and pre-crash collision systems, all designed to make the roads safer. Here are ten of the major milestones, each important in its own right.
Emergency response system If you get in a crash, the first thing you want to do is pick up the phone. But what if you are unable to make that call? Emergency-response systems that connect drivers directly with emergency personnel have been around for more than a decade. General Motors’ OnStar system, Ford Sync emergency response system, Peugeot’s Emergency Assist all are efforts that use GPS location tracing and Bluetooth technology to connect you to a helpline when you can’t.
Rear-view cameras Some of the first rear-view sensors and cameras were introduced in the 1970s to help enormous construction vehicles see what was behind them. In recent years, many carmakers have been taking the parking burden off drivers through rear-view cameras. Most screens are located in the center of the dashboard but some are mounted in the rear-view mirror. Some others have sensors that tell you when you’re about to back into something – tons of help when parallel parking.
Pre-crash warning systems This in no way justifies texting or reading messages or making a call while driving but instances are many when a modern driver can use some help in terms of avoiding a crash. There are different types of pre-crash systems. Some get totally involved by applying the brakes for you when it looks like the car is about to be involved in a collision, while others simply alert the driver to a possible crash. Using radar detectors placed in front, they monitor the speed and distance between cars and informs of sudden changes in the path directly in front of the vehicle. Some pre-crash systems automatically tighten the seatbelts and raise the seats. It’s any day better to make your own decisions by always knowing where you are headed!
Blind-spot detection Whether we blame it on a thick B-pillar or a bad-pillow neck, haven’t we all almost run into the vehicle that’s almost parallel to ours while trying to overtake? Missing it completely, and if we are lucky, just facing the wrath of the driver’s words alone. Most cars and trucks have a “blind spot,” which is an area behind and next to the car that can’t be seen in the mirrors. That’s where the new blind-spot detection technology, also known as lane-change assist, tries to focus. Cameras and radar sensors are used to monitor the space behind and alongside the moving car, and if they detect another car within your blind spot, a small warning light on your rear-view mirror will illuminate, alerting you to the presence of the other car.
Anti-lock brakes Prevention is better than protection when it comes to a crash. That’s where ABS steps in. Antilock Braking Systems prevent your tires from skidding when braking and enable you to stay in control. A locked wheel is much more likely to skid on a slippery surface than a moving wheel, so ABS prevents locking up by allowing slight movement. This is done by using a sensor that repeatedly pumps the brakes instead keeping them compressed all along. This results in applying and releasing the brakes several times a second – at a pace your right feet wouldn’t be able to match!
Four-wheel drives When it comes to car safety, control is crucial and when all four wheels are propelling the car forward, as opposed to just two, it distributes the driving force more evenly and prevents you from skidding. Even if the road isn’t slippery, four-wheel drive improves performance and handling because of improved traction, and using four-wheel drive tends to wear the tires more evenly.
Safety glass A technology that is still in vogue for saving lives surrounds you in your car’s cabin is safety glass. Here’s how it works: a thin layer of clear plastic film is placed between two layers of glass, and when the glass is broken, the plastic holds it in place, preventing it from shattering into sharp debris. Not only does the lamination prevent windows from shattering, it is also proven to reduce the transmission of high-frequency sound and blocks up to 97 percent of UV rays. Heating and quickly cooling the glass makes a stronger type of safety glass called tempered glass. When tempered glass experiences an impact, it breaks into small glass pebbles that are less dangerous in accidents.
Air bags They now come as standard in almost all new cars in the Middle East and other advanced auto markets. Between 1971 and 73, Ford, Chevrolet and Oldsmobile had introduced the air bag system in select models. But it was not until 1988 that Chrysler became the first company to offer air bag restraint systems as standard equipment.
The concept is simple: An inflatable bag provides a cushion at the moment of impact, preventing the driver and passenger from hitting the steering column and dashboard of the car. More recently, automakers have started adding additional airbags to protect against side collisions. Most head airbags inflate in about one-twenty-fifth of a second after sensors detect a collision. Figures prove that airbags reduce the risk of death in head-on collisions by about 30 percent.
The thing about side airbags is that they have to deploy much faster to be effective, thanks to the absence of space and cushioning between the occupants and the door. The magic number is 5 milliseconds!
Seat belts According to accident statistics, life can indeed hold on to a thin thread. Rather a thin strip of synthetic fabric. Seat belts save lives. Every moving thing answers to the call of nature, and Newton’s first law of motion. Which in our context simply means this: “When a car is suddenly brought to a standstill in an accident, the occupants would continue to move in the same direction and same speed, crashing into the dashboard or flying through the windshield – unless stopped back by an opposing force!” Seat belts keep you in place, spreading the force of impact over the shoulders and pelvis, which are some of the most resilient parts of the body. While seat belts themselves do at times cause serious injury, they do save thousands of lives every year!
Ever since Volvo introduced the first 3-point seat belts in 1959, countries and states have gradually made them mandatory by law and today major awareness campaigns do their rounds urging people to use them.
Child seats Seats belts are amazing but they are for grown-ups. That’s why car seats are manufactured and all modern cars have a place for them. Car seats provide a similar protection for children that seat belts do for adults. It’s very unsafe to hold a child in your arms during a crash – the impact could be strong enough to loosen your grip or even worse, the child could act as a cushion, absorbing your impact. Generally, the safest place for a car seat is in the centre rear seat, because it is protected from side collisions and isn’t in the path of passenger-seat airbags. Various car seats are available to suit age and size, and the ISOFIX car seats that are easier and safer to lock in are increasing in popularity.