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New Automobile Safety Features

by Christopher Burdick

Over the past 10 years safety has become as much of a selling point in the automobile market as fuel economy and performance. Every vehicle sold in the United States sports a long list of safety features, from crumple zones to break-away engine mounts. All of these features provide passengers with a level of safety that was not available in the vehicles of the 70's and 80's.

Below is an overview of common safety features found in most new cars.

Anti-Lock Braking Systems

Anti-Lock Braking Systems (ABS) made their debut in the U.S. market in the late 60's as optional equipment on the Lincoln Continental Mark III. The system was unreliable and was discontinued, but it was a glimpse into what was to come in automobile braking systems. Though not new technology, ABS is one of the most important safety features available on a new car. Anti-Lock Brakes are available on just about every vehicle sold in the U.S. Most vehicles have them as standard equipment, but many less-expensive base models can be purchased without ABS.

The theory behind ABS is that a sliding tire has less stopping power than a tire in solid contact with the road. Before ABS, drivers were taught to "pump" their brakes during an emergency stop. This technique prevented skidding by releasing pressure on the brakes momentarily, which allows the tires to regain traction if they have started to skid. ABS takes this idea a step further, since a computer can react and modulate the power brakes of an automobile quicker than the driver. When the ABS system in a car senses that a tire has lost traction and is skidding, it reduces the braking power for a fraction of a second, allowing the tire to regain traction, and then the system reapplies the braking power. This system allows ABS equipped vehicles to stop quicker than similar vehicles without ABS. If you are considering purchasing a vehicle without ABS, find out how much the same model with ABS is. It may only be a little bit more money, but it's well worth the investment.

Traction Control

Traction control works in a similar manner to Anti-Lock braking systems, and in a way, it is almost like ABS in reverse. Traction control systems are designed to keep your tires from skidding, but as ABS helps you decrease speed, traction control helps you maintain control when increasing speed. When driving on slippery roads, especially on snow or ice, it is easy to spin the drive wheels of a vehicle. When the drive wheels skid, not only does the vehicle lose traction and waste energy, but losing traction could cause a vehicle to skid sideways and lose control. Traction control systems monitor the speed of all 4 tires, and if it senses one tire moving faster than the others, the computer slows that wheel down so that it may regain traction. This is done by electronically reducing power to the drive wheels by adjusting the throttle or by adjusting the engines combustion to reduce power. Some systems use the ABS system to pulse the brakes and slow down the skidding tire. Those people living in warmer climates where winter traveling rarely involves snow and ice will probably not see the benefits of traction control, but those of us who live in the northern United States can really benefit from this new technology.

Electronic Stability Control

This September the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a report that provided solid facts about the effectiveness of Electronic Stability Control, a relatively new feature found on many automobiles sold here in the Unites States. Electronic Stability Control (or ESC) is an electronic system that monitors the stability of a vehicle, and electronically intervenes with the drivers controls in the event that the vehicle becomes unstable. This can be very helpful in preventing an accident by helping the driver maintain control of their vehicle during emergency maneuvers. The report stated that "ESC reduced single vehicle crashes in passenger cars by 35 percent when compared to the same models sold in prior years without the technology. The preliminary results were even more dramatic for the much smaller sample of SUVs in the study: Single vehicle crashes were reduced by 67 percent in models with ESC".


Airbag Technology has improved greatly over the past few years. When introduced in the late 80's, most cars only had a driver's side airbag. Now, it is common to find as many as 6 airbags in one vehicle. These new airbags are sometimes called "Dual-Stage Airbags" meaning that they deploy at different speeds or different pressures, depending on the force of the accident. However, in order for airbags to function properly, passengers must wear their seat belts to prevent then from moving into a position where an expanding airbag may hurt them.

Safety Belts

Safety belts have also evolved dramatically over the past few years. Consumers can now buy cars with intelligent seat belts that modulate the tension of the belt during a crash. Integrated Safety belt systems mount the shoulder belt not to the inside wall of the car, but to the seat back itself. This allows the safety belt to move with the passenger, no matter where the seat is positioned. This results in a more comfortable fit and it is more effective at holding a passenger in their seat than the traditional method.

Preventative Safety Technology

Other new safety features are designed to prevent accidents. A few luxury manufacturers are offering night-vision display systems that enhance a driver's vision, making it easier to see problems in low-light situations. Also available on many vehicles are rear facing cameras that allow drivers to get a better look at what is behind them when backing up. Certain models also have a radar system installed that alerts the driver if they are getting too close to another solid object while in reverse.

Final Thoughts

All of these systems are designed to help the passengers of an automobile escape injury during an accident. However, the most important safety feature is an alert and defensive driver. Many accidents can be avoided simply by being aware of ones surroundings and reacting quickly to changing conditions. Hopefully you will never have to use all of those safety features in your new car, but it is much better to have them there when you really need them than not to have them at all.


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