Decades ago, vehicles were simple modes of transportation with little concern for occupant safety. As the automobile became more ingrained in our lives, safety features became increasingly important.
In came relatively simple features, like seatbelts, which Volvo introduced to Canadian drivers in 1959. Throughout the years, as cars became filled with more technology, the safety features became more advanced and could even override the driver at times.
Let's explore driver assist and safety systems in today's vehicles so you have a firm understanding of what each one does.
Airbags are inflatable bags designed to inflate instantly in the event of a crash to keep the vehicle's occupants safe. To inflate, airbags use an array of collision sensors that activate inflators.
Automakers can position airbags throughout the vehicle's cabin, including in the steering wheel, in the passenger's side of the dashboard, on the side of each front seat, along the roof where the window meets the roof, in the knee area, and more.
Airbags have been a requirement on all new cars in the U.S. since 1998, but Canada has no laws requiring them, though most cars in Canada include them.
Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) have been available on a large scale on vehicles since the 1970s. Though there have been many changes over the years, ABS' purpose has remained the same: to prevent the wheels from locking up during hard braking.
Today's ABS uses a sensor at each wheel to detect lockup. If it senses wheel lockup, the system overrides the driver's input and begins pumping the brakes 100 times per second to help the driver maintain control of the vehicle.
Vehicles can have ABS on only the rear wheel or all four wheels.
Traction control helps your vehicle regain traction when the system senses slippage. The traction control system monitors the vehicle's speed and the tires' actions. If it senses one tire is spinning faster than the vehicle is moving, indicating hydroplaning or skidding, it slows the vehicle by adjusting the throttle or applying the brakes to that wheel.
This system works in conjunction with your vehicle's ABS.
Electronic stability control (ESC) prevents a vehicle from skidding or spinning out. It detects a probable spinout by monitoring the direction the vehicle is going and the direction the steering wheel is turned.
If the system detects a potential spinout, it manipulates the throttle and activates the brakes on select wheels to maintain control. ESC works in conjunction with the vehicle's traction control system (TCS).
Automatic high-beam headlights use a front-mounted sensor to detect oncoming headlights or taillights ahead of you. If it detects these lights, it automatically switches the headlights to their low-beam setting to prevent blinding oncoming drivers or the drivers ahead of you.
Forward collision warning uses radar in the front bumper to detect vehicles ahead of you. If it detects a stopped vehicle, and you don't activate the brakes quickly enough, the system will emit an audible and visual warning to stop.
Some forward collision warning systems also include a following distance monitor that detects how closely you're following the vehicle ahead of you. If it detects you're too close, it will emit a visual warning to increase the following distance.
Lane departure warning uses cameras mounted on the front bumper to detect the lane-indicator lines on a road. If it detects you are about to cross over one of these lines and enter another lane, the system activates a visual and audible alarm. In some cases, it will even vibrate the steering wheel or seat.
Some more advanced systems also include lane-keeping assist. This system detects when you're about to leave the lane unintentionally, and the electric power steering system lightly pulls you back into the lane.
AEB uses radar to constantly detect the distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you. If the distance between the two vehicles closes too rapidly without the driver activating the brakes, the antilock braking system (ABS) engages fully.
AEB is designed to at least slow the vehicle down to minimize the damage to both vehicles. In some cases, though, the system can stop your vehicle before it hits the vehicle ahead of you. Many modern AEB systems also have bicyclist and pedestrian detection for added protection.
Blind-spot monitoring or blind-spot warning uses radars mounted on the rear bumper or side-view mirrors to detect traffic in a vehicle's natural blind spot. When it detects a vehicle in the blind spot, most cars will illuminate a light on or near the corresponding side-view mirror.
If you turn on your turn signal, the light on or near the mirror will flash, and some vehicles will also play an audible warning.
In some newer vehicles, there is also blind-spot crash avoidance. This system prevents the driver from switching lanes when it detects a vehicle in the blind spot by applying light pressure on the steering wheel in the direction of the original travel lane.
Other vehicles, like the Kia K900, include a camera that gives you a glimpse of the blind spot.
Adaptive cruise control (ACC) uses radar and other sensors to detect vehicles ahead of you while driving on the highway using cruise control. If a vehicle ahead of you is driving at a slower speed, the ACC slows your vehicle down to match the speed of the vehicle in front of you while maintaining the following distance you set.
Once the vehicle is no longer in front of you, ACC accelerates your vehicle back to the original speed you set.
Some ACC systems also have full stop-and-go functionality. This means if you encounter stopped traffic, the ACC system will bring the vehicle to a full stop and accelerate once the traffic starts moving again.
Rear cross-traffic alert generally piggybacks off the radar sensors for blind-spot monitoring systems. It uses these sensors to detect traffic coming from either side of the vehicle's rear end while backing up. If it detects a vehicle approaching your rearward path, it'll emit a sound display a warning.
Some new vehicles have more advanced systems that include automatic rear braking. This means it not only detects crossing traffic, but it'll also stop the vehicle if you attempt to proceed into the crossing traffic.
Park assist uses front and rear radar sensors to detect how close you are to another vehicle or object while pulling into a parking space. As you approach the vehicle or object, the park assist system beeps faster and displays a graphic showing the distance you are from the object.
Some more advanced park assist systems also include side sensors.
A rearview camera or backup camera is a rearward-facing camera that activates when you put the vehicle in reverse. This gives you a clear view of your rearward path.
Earlier backup cameras showed only the rearward path, but newer systems include lines that show how far you are from an object. More advanced rearview cameras have dynamic guidelines that show the projected path as you turn the front wheels.
Depending on the vehicle, the rearview camera display is either on the infotainment screen or the rearview mirror.
Some more advanced camera systems include cameras on the sides and front of the vehicle. The system stitches these camera feeds together to create a simulated 360-degree view of the vehicle and its surroundings.
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