Today's vehicles include a host of safety features which help drivers avoid making potentially fatal mistakes. Of course, these devices are not infallible; rather, they serve as a backup to your own intelligence, driving behavior and reaction skills. Most safety features operate under the driver's radar, meaning you never notice them. So, for your next vehicle purchase, inquire about the various safety systems and driving aids offered by the manufacturer.
Your seat belt cannot prevent accidents, but it will certainly prevent you from becoming a human projectile in the event of one. Indeed, during a collision, your body keeps moving forward (for a few tenths of a second) at the same speed you were driving before it occurred. So, if you drive at 100 kph and suffer a frontal collision, your body and your passengers' will be launched forward at the same speed upon impact.
As is often the case, rear passengers who don't wear their seat belts become very dangerous projectiles during a collision. To give you an idea, the force of impact at 50 kph is tantamount to 35 times the weight of the flying body.
During a crash, the seat belt will keep your body in check and the effectiveness of airbags will thus be optimized. The belt will slow your forward momentum and allow the airbag to properly and safely do its work.
Suffered an accident? Call your insurer!
This part concerns the consumer. True, consumers have rights, but with those rights come obligations. Should you suffer an accident and damage your car and/or injure yourself, it's your obligation to contact your insurer. Also, you should read your insurance policy to know exactly what will be covered.
Airbags are safety devices of proven value that supplement the protection provided by seat belts. They are connected to sensors that detect sudden deceleration. When activated, the sensor sends an electrical signal that ignites a chemical propellant, and when ignited, this propellant produces nitrogen gas, which inflates the air bag. This process occurs in less than one-twentieth of a second - faster than the blink of an eye.
Electronic stability control
Electronic Stability Control, or ESC, is designed to help you maintain control of your vehicle during an emergency maneuver, such as when you need to swerve or brake suddenly to avoid an obstacle. This system monitors your steering versus the direction of the vehicle. When they do not match, it will automatically actuate the brakes at one or more wheels for short periods of time, reduce engine power, or both.
Since ESC is automatically "ON" whenever you start your vehicle, you will need to switch it off manually during certain situations - when you are stuck in snow, for example.
Antilock braking system
The Antilock Braking System (ABS) is designed to help drivers maintain some steering ability by preventing one or more wheels from locking while braking, which would otherwise send your vehicle skidding. Since the mid-1980s, ABS has become standard on a growing number of vehicles sold in Canada.
The best way to optimize the effectiveness of the ABS brakes is to apply steady and constant pressure on the brake pedal until the vehicle has come to a full stop, while maneuvering to avoid the obstacle. Don't worry if you hear a noise or feel a vibration coming from the pedal during a violent braking maneuver: with some vehicles, this is totally normal! This is caused by the system applying and releasing pressure to the brakes at ultra-high frequency.
Remember that the performance of an antilock braking system also depends on the condition of your tires. Obviously, during winter, ABS will be much more effective when the vehicle is equipped with four snow tires.
The antiskid system (a variant of ESC) uses the ABS brakes to push and pull a wayward vehicle in the direction the driver is steering. While it is possible for such a system to engage on dry pavement, it is most useful during slippery conditions, such as wet, snowy and/or gravel road surfaces.
Simply explained, if a vehicle oversteers, or slides sideways at the rear wheels, the system applies an appropriate level of force to the opposite front brake (and other braking points if necessary) in order to realign the vehicle's rear quarters. Conversely, if a vehicle understeers, or pushes forward on the front, the system will apply the brakes to the inside wheels to pull the car back into its lane.
Rollover stability control
This type of system uses rollover sensors that work in conjunction with ABS and ESC. These sensors monitor roll speed about the longitudinal axis (at a rate of several times per second). Then, they determine when and how to apply the brakes and alter the engine's power to keep all four wheels in contact with the ground.
A few automakers have developed what is known as a "pre-collision" system. This technology uses blinking lights and beeping signals to alert the driver when a collision is imminent, such as when an obstacle is detected in the vehicle's trajectory. Should the driver not react accordingly by making the proper correction maneuvers, the system will automatically and progressively apply the brakes.
The idea behind such technology was not to compensate for distracted drivers or totally prevent an accident, but to reduce impact speeds by warning the driver in advance and allowing him or her the time to react. This helps reduce injuries and fatalities. Usually, the system employs a camera and a radar sensor to send the information to the onboard computer.
Adopt good driving habits!
Vehicle safety is more than just advanced systems that take over your vehicle to prevent accidents from happening. Above all, being a technically sound driver is key. Driving lessons are a must for beginners. That being said, veteran drivers ought to consider attending advanced technical driving lessons (controlled skidding, obstacle avoidance, etc.).
Such lessons also prove beneficial to those looking to improve upon what they have learned many years ago. After all, automobile design, equipment and size all change over time. Who would have thought, back in the 1970s, that SUVs and pickup trucks would become almost as popular as wagons and sedans? Yet, driving a truck is definitely not the same as driving a car; people tend to forget about it.
Moreover, too many of us hit the road while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, drive too fast (especially during winter) or use a cell phone behind the wheel. Some are being careless and others, downright stupid. And then there are those reckless drivers and road rage addicts with complete disregard for other people's safety.
Adopting good driving habits is the only sensible thing to do. Remember: the road is not all yours!