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Safety: Staying in control

Safety: Staying in control

Car safety has come a long way in New Zealand. Advanced electronic car safety systems are used by nearly all major manufacturers and are now found in less expensive models. Car safety systems that assist drivers with maintaining control over their vehicles are not meant to replace responsible driving habits, but they have nevertheless made it possible for even an average driver to avoid crashes he or she would not have been able to avoid otherwise.

In New Zealand, ANCAP, or the Australasian New Car Assessment Program, is responsible for testing and evaluating these systems. All vehicles have to pass stringent tests before a car may be sold to the public. Here are some of the major systems that help keep you safe on the roads.

Electronic Stability Control (ESC)

This system essentially uses other safety systems like the ABS (anti-locking brakes) and traction control to selectively apply braking force to individual wheels to eliminate or control a vehicle if it’s skidding on slippery surfaces.

Benefits of ESC

  • Four-wheel Drive of gravel road Corrects over- or under-steering.
  • Stabilises a vehicle during sudden or violent shifts, such as from the steering under certain throttle settings.
  • Greatly enhances handling on sand or gravel patches, such as road shoulders and uneven road surfaces.
  • Provides significantly improved traction on iced-over or otherwise slippery road surfaces.

The overall effectiveness of ESC systems has been highlighted in a study by Monash University, which showed the likelihood of a driver being injured in a single-car crash with an ESC-equipped car has been reduced by 27 per cent, while the reduction in the case of four wheel drive vehicles is as much as 68 per cent.

Emergency Brake Assist

First introduced by Mercedes-Benz in the mid-1990s, this system is now found in most makes of cars. It effectively assumes control of a vehicle’s brakes during emergency or panic stops. It does this by measuring a car’s speed and the amount of force applied to the brake pedal. The system can determine whether an emergency stop is in progress and, in conjunction with other systems, will automatically apply the maximum braking force of which the vehicle is capable, even if the driver lets go of the brake pedal altogether.

Benefits of EBA

Since the vast majority of drivers do not apply sufficient brake force in emergency stop situations, the EBA system can prevent crashes or minimise impact if an accident is unavoidable.

Autonomous Emergency Braking

AEB uses radar technology linked to forward-looking video cameras to constantly monitor the road ahead for dangers such as slow moving traffic, pedestrians and other obstacles. Should the system detect a potential collision, the driver is alerted. Should the driver fail to activate the brakes or slow down in time, the system assumes control of the brakes and can slow the vehicle without any action by the driver.

Benefits of AEB

AEB can effectively avoid accidents altogether. At the very least, it will reduce the vehicle’s speed and lower the impact and possible injuries to drivers or passengers.

Roll Stability Control

On vehicles equipped with this system, several sensors continuously monitor the rate of body roll relative to the road surface. In addition, this system is linked to the ABS, and the two will work together to either apply braking force or torque to certain wheels to prevent the vehicle from rolling.

Benefits of RSC

By allowing the vehicle to regain stability, RSC allows a large percentage of previously unavoidable roll-overs to be prevented.

Trailer Stability System

At high speeds, badly loaded or unbalanced trailers can sway dangerously behind the towing vehicle, with the potential to completely destabilise both the car and the trailer. Using several sensors, this system detects any swaying motion, sometimes even before a driver may be aware of an impending disaster, and corrects the situation by applying braking force to individual wheels and limiting engine power. Full control of the vehicle is restored to the driver as soon as the situation has been brought under control.

Benefits of TSS

Given that many drivers have limited towing experience, many crashes involving trailers can be eliminated by the TSS system.

ABS Brakes

Anti-lock braking systems use sensors on each wheel to measure wheel rotation speeds. Under braking on dry, even surfaces, all wheels should theoretically slow down at the same rate; if this doesn’t happen and some wheels slow down faster than others, this system will rapidly release and re-apply braking force to those wheels, ensuring that no wheel locks up.

Benefits of ABS

By preventing wheel lock-up even with violent braking, the driver remains in full control of the car, allowing him or her to safely steer around obstacles. In addition, this system allows full and safe braking in conditions where road surfaces may be different under different wheels (for instance, two wheels may be on a paved surface and the other two on the gravel surface of a road shoulder).

Traction control/Rollover warning

Essentially a combination of various systems (including the Stability Control, Traction Control and ABS systems, and in some cases the automatic transmission control), this system will detect imminent roll-overs and apply immediate corrective action to restore stability to the vehicle.

Benefits of Traction control/Rollover warning

Merely counter-steering into a slide or skid is rarely sufficient to prevent a rollover. Allowing an electronically-controlled safety system to take control of a skidding car to restore stability can prevent rollovers that very few, if any, human drivers could.  

Hill Launch Assist

This very useful system uses a car's brakes to hold it stationary on sloped surfaces, preventing what could be an expensive accident where the vehicle rolls into obstacles or other cars.

Benefits of HLA

This system provides a delay when the driver moves his or her foot from the brake to the accelerator. This means there’s no need to go through the sometimes difficult procedure of using the handbrake to hold the car steady while you take off on a steep incline. The moment there’s enough engine power to move the vehicle, the brakes are automatically released.

The above car safety systems are extremely useful and have prevented many crashes, but not all of them are available in New Zealand, nor are all of them compulsory. To learn more about these systems and the car safety ratings in NZ, visit the links provided above, or visit your dealer to see which safety systems are available for the latest model of your favourite make of car.

No matter what safety features your car has, here's how to drive safely in bad weather conditions.

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