Safety tech explained:a guide to the key systems (I) 2020-07-16

The days are long gone when airbags and three-point seatbelts were considered high-end safety kit for cars.

The technology used to keep motorists safe has evolved rapidly over the past 20 years, which is fantastic news for car buyers, but what features should be non-negotiable these days and what features are merely icing on the safety cake?

Autonomous emergency braking

What is AEB: Also commonly referred to as emergency auto-brake or simply AEB, autonomous emergency braking uses forward-facing sensors (usually a laser or camera, sometimes a radar, and sometimes all three!) to monitor your distance from the traffic in front of you. If the car in front stops suddenly and the system detects that you haven’t braked sufficiently to avoid a collision, it takes over and slows the car down automatically. Some systems can even detect pedestrians, cyclists or animals at low speeds.

Why is AEB important: It’s always the responsibility of the driver to stay vigilant and monitor the road ahead, but sometimes it’s not possible to keep tabs on absolutely everything. Turning your head to check the lane beside you can sometimes be all it takes for danger to appear in front of you.

That’s where AEB comes in. It’s always scanning the road – and sometimes several cars in front of you – and checking how fast you’re closing in on obstacles ahead, whether that’s another car or something more solid. It’s not a substitute for an attentive driver, but it can make the difference between pulling up with space to spare or running into the rear of the car in front.

Airbags - more of them

What are they: Airbags have been around for decades, having first being introduced in the 1970s. But while dual front airbags for the driver and front passenger have been common since the late 1990s, in recent years the number of airbags fitted to passenger cars has risen to at least six – two front ones, side airbags for the front seats and curtain airbags that extend across the front and rear seats (and often the third row, too, in some but not all larger cars).

But some cars come with even more than that, with side airbags for rear occupants, seatbelt-mounted airbags and knee-level airbags available.

Why are airbags important: Though your seatbelt remains the most important restraint in a crash, airbags work wonders by helping lessen the shock forces encountered in an impact. By cushioning more parts of your body, your chances of survival are not only dramatically increased, but you may even be able to walk away with barely a scratch.

Rear side airbags are a good idea if you regularly carry passengers, while head-protecting curtain airbags should be considered a must-have due to their ability to minimise the chances of brain injury in a side impact.

Electronic stability control - more features

What is it: Electronic stability control (ESC) is now standard in many cars, but not all systems are as capable as each other.

Stability control is a blanket term that covers any kind of computer-controlled regulation of traction and vehicle slip, but can also cover other features that help rein in swaying trailers, promote cornering grip and also reduce the chance of a rollover in tall SUVs.

Why it’s important: If you’re buying a new passenger car, you’re almost guaranteed some form of electronic stability control system, but when examining your shortlist be sure to delve deeper to see exactly what kind of capabilities are included.

All of them will help keep get the car pointing straight again if it starts to skid out of control, but some will prevent the car from ever getting into a dangerous situation like that in the first place.

Head-up display

What is it: Head-up display (HUD) projects crucial driving data such as your car’s speed and upcoming sat-nav directions directly into your field of view, either by bouncing light off a small transparent panel or off a special part of the inside surface of the windscreen.

Why it’s important: Similar to displays used in military aircraft, a head-up display can be invaluable to drivers as it enables them to keep their eyes up and looking out of the car, rather than constantly flicking down to check on their speed.

Distracted drivers make mistakes, but this piece of tech removes one form of distraction and is far from a gimmick. Though still relatively rare in the more affordable vehicle classes, the presence of a head-up display should be an important factor when weighing up what car to buy next.


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