Safety Focus – 2 Life Saving Inventions


As we know, there are two main categories for car related safety; active safety, and passive safety. Since I’m all about prevention rather than cure, I’m going to talk about a journey that I did, where a couple of active safety technologies featured. And of course, I’ll mention what they did to keep me out of trouble. Within reason. Many have tried and failed to keep me out of trouble. A safety focus can be useful sometimes so let’s discuss.

(Before we get into the details, don’t forget our 10% Referral Refund Scheme, for anyone who sends a customer to Motorkwirks Finder and Consultancy Services. Could you be the next to benefit?)

The first piece of tech is anti-lock-brakes, or ABS. These used to be the preserve of the upmarket expensive cars. Then it became a legal requirement for cars sold in the EU and US a few years ago. I was on a reasonably fast journey back home, on typical british backroads. Lots of twists, turns and elevation changes. The perfect sort of road for anyone who likes to take their motor out for a spin. Also the perfect road to end up in a spin. Therefore not so perfect if one requires much space to react to the unexpected. After taking one of the many sweeping corners on the A40, a fox decided to run across the road metres in front.

ABS has kept me out of trouble for many miles

Like many, I happen to have grown up watching a certain Mr Attenborough on television, and despite my rush, I was not keen to upset him. Animals of Farthing Wood also played heavily on my mind, so I went for the brakes. On a damp surface, and round a corner. This would normally be a recipe for a crash and an awkward farewell to the no claims bonus. But the Focus braked and didn’t wander from its line. But how?

The main (great) benefit about ABS is that it does not completely stop wheel rotation while slowing the car down. Sensors in the car compare different wheel speeds and release the brakes accordingly if there is too much of a disparity. If a wheel locks solid and is not allowed to rotate, then the steering angle doesn’t make any difference to the car’s path. The vehicle will just carry on in whatever direction you happen to be going in at the time. If there’s a tree in your way, brace yourself. But if you have abs in your car, you can slow down and still adjust your path to avoid trees, foxes, and if you’re particularly charitable, people.

Having successfully avoided the fox, and let it know my disapproval of its actions, I gave the focus a boot-full of throttle. But of course, it was still damp, so the wheels spun up slightly. But they only spun momentarily due to the traction control. This is a piece of tech which limits the amount the wheels can spin under hard acceleration. Engine power tends to follow the path of least resistance. A bit like me with my work. So if one wheel is easier to spin than the others, that’s where most of the power will go, and progress falters. Traction control gets around this problem. It either does this by reducing the engine power, or applying the brakes. Again, sensors detect differences in wheel speed to work out how much to dampen the power reaching the wheels.

The system in mine reduces the engine power, thus avoiding unnecessary brake wear. In truth, my car does not have enough power to justify having this system, but I’m grateful to Ford for being determined to keep me on the road. You’ll all be relieved to know I made it to my destination unscathed. I didn’t harm any foxes along the way either, real or animated.

Traction control button doesn’t get a lot of use…

A lot of cars today come with stability control, which is an extension of this. The car typically monitors sensors in each of the wheels, as well as steering, braking and throttle input. It compares the intended car path to the actual path the car is travelling in. Thus it can work out whether the vehicle is remaining on track or not. If there is too much deviation, it will take appropriate action. There are some systems that allow a certain amount of slip before stepping in. This enables driver of sports cars to still have fun, but not find themselves exposed when they reach the limits of their abilities.

Now my Focus doesn’t have stability control (I assume because the previous owner was either a racing driver or not bothered). However, last year I had a full day’s drive in a Mercedes C63S. After turning off the stability control and power-sliding around the skid pad, the instructor turned it back on again. The car did not deviate from its path once. The system was brilliant, although given the £70,000 asking price, I was expecting nothing less. And neither should you!

My Focus is not awash with active safety technology, as you can see. There is plenty of other technology out there to make our lives easier or keep us on the road. Some cars have adaptive cruise control, designed to keep you at a safe distance to the car in front. Some cars have vibrating seats and steering wheels to keep you in your lane on the motorway. Which tech really helps you out? Do you rely on any of them? Feel free to join the family and comment below. Thanks for reading!

What are your thoughts?