The seatbelt first debuted as a standard item in a production car back in 1958, in a Saab. Since then it has become one of the crucial devices in passive safety and has saved thousands of lives. All passengers and the driver must wear a seatbelt by law in Australia. The belt works by simply 'catching' occupants and restraining them during collisions. In the old days, occupants used to be projected out of the vehicle during a crash.
Like the seatbelt, the airbag has become one of the biggest steps in increasing passive safety. It was first introduced in a mainstream production car in the early 1970s. It wasn't until 1987 that driver and passenger airbags became standard, first in the Porsche 944. Although it did take a while for the technology to catch on and work effectively with the use of seatbelts, airbags are now a critical aspect in vehicle safety. Almost all production cars in Australia come with at least a driver airbag.
Anti-lock Braking System is a technology that prevents the wheels from locking under heavy braking. The problem with a locked wheel or wheels is there is no steering. A locked wheel does not rotate which means it cannot roll in the direction pointed. ABS uses sensors to momentarily release a locked wheel (individually if need be) and reapply braking pressure, numerous times, all within a matter of milliseconds. This results in shorter stopping distances during hard braking, while the front wheels maintain their direction allowing the driver to point the car where desired and around obstacles and so on.
Stability and traction control
Stability and traction control is a huge step forward in vehicle safety. It works a little bit like ABS brakes, with sensors constantly monitoring individual wheel speed. During an abrupt swerve, individual braking is automatically applied in the event of tyre slippage, effectively steering the car and keeping the vehicle under control. Traction control is similar, only it manages traction during acceleration. In wet conditions it is sometimes difficult for vehicles to take off. Traction control works by either applying momentary braking to a spinning wheel, or by automatically slackened off the throttle, or a combination of both. Vehicles must now come standard with these devices in order to achieve a five-star ANCAP safety rating in Australia.
Auto braking technology is a relatively new standard. It works by using radar sensors and/or cameras to monitor objects in front of the vehicle during slow speeds, depending on the manufacturer. Basically, the car is able to brake automatically if it detects an object. It often first sends out an audible warning to alert the driver, and then if nothing is done, the brakes are applied to try and reduce the severity of an impact, or reduce it altogether. Lots of vehicles are coming out with this feature as standard, including some entry-level models and lots of premium cars.
Radar-guided cruise control
Working in a similar way and often in tandem with auto-brake technology, radar cruise control, when activated, takes control of the car's accelerator and brakes out on the highway. Once the car approaches another vehicle going in the same direction, the throttle is backed off and the brakes are applied automatically to maintain a predetermined distance (often changeable by the driver). Some vehicles will even bring the car to a complete stop if the vehicle in front comes to a complete stop. At the moment the technology does not bring the car back up to speed after completely stopping. Like regular cruise control, it is all switched off immediately when the driver touches the brake pedal.
ISOFIX child seat anchorage
Child anchorages points have progressed on a fair bit over the decades. But no evolution is as great as the ISOFIX design. It was only made legal in Australia in 2014, whereas it has been the standard in Europe for years. It works by clipping the child seat directly into a fixture in the car, holding the seat completely rigid. Before this, child seats were secured via a standard seatbelt and secondary seatbelt strap, which wasn't completely secure during a crash. The child seat was able to move around somewhat.
Not many vehicles come standard with head-up display at the moment, but it is likely to be a widespread safety standard in the years to come. It works by using a reflection on the windscreen to beam vehicle speed in front of the driver's line of vision. This means the driver does not have to take his/her eyes off the road. And being a reflection, you can see straight through it if need be. Most systems offer adjustable positioning so you can have the display in the lower section of the windscreen, with brightness settings further removing an potential intrusiveness.
It won't be long before rear-view cameras are standard fitment in all vehicles. They save loads of lives every year. It's a particularly useful feature for parents with young children or for those with pets. You can keep an eye on the back of the car during reversing. It's also useful when parking in tight spaces.
Electronic brake force distribution
When you hit the brakes hard in an old car there is a big chance one of the wheels will lock up. There is also chance it will cause the car to lose stability, potentially sending the car sideways. Brake force distribution uses computers and sensors to make sure each individual wheel is receiving appropriate braking pressure in relation to how much grip the wheel has. If one of the rear wheels, for example, is under low load due to the rear of the vehicle lifting slightly under hard braking, the computer will send more brake pressure to the front wheels. This technology is quickly becoming a standard setup for many new-model vehicles.