The definition of the word 'accident’ implies that it is an event that happens by chance, or that it is without apparent or deliberate cause. It can happen to anyone and, most of all, when they are least expecting it. Precaution is the best form of prevention, especially when it comes to the safety of occupants in a car. We bring a list of what we think are essential safety features to have in a car to prevent accidents and to protect yourself in one.
Crumple zones: Bela Barenyi, a Mercedes-Benz engineer came up with the concept of using crumple zones in cars. Used for the first time in the mid-1900s, it made its debut on the Mercedes-Benz 220. The idea behind the safety feature is to deflect kinetic energy away from the occupants in the event of a collision.
Crumple zones work on a very simple concept. The cabin of the car is made of a rigid compartment, with a softer zone around it. In case the car is involved in a crash, the outer, softer ‘crumple zone’ collapses under impact, distributing and channeling the energy around the cabin instead of through it, keeping the occupants safe.
Three point seatbelts: Seatbelts, now mandatory widely across the globe, have saved millions of lives. They were invented by Volvo engineer Nils Bohlin. The concept of seatbelts is to hold the occupants in place if the car crashes.
When a car hits an obstacle, it loses momentum very rapidly, however, the occupants continue moving at the same speed as the car before the crash. This is called the catapult effect. The front occupants hit the dashboard or the steering wheel at the same speed as the car hits the obstacle, and can sustain very serious injuries, or worse. Seatbelts counter this by holding the occupants in place and don’t allow them to move about. The force is evenly spread across the stronger parts of the body such as the waist and the chest, reducing trauma to the body.
Airbags: John Hetrick, a retired engineer invented airbags. Airbags are simply air-filled cushions which deploy upon impact to protect the occupants from hitting their head or body against the hard bits inside the cabin.
The most common injuries sustained by the driver and front passenger are caused by them hitting against the dashboard. To counter this, airbags are incorporated into the steering wheel and the dashboard to cushion the impact. However, do bear in mind that airbags are meant to be used with seatbelts, and not in place of them.
Electronic Stability Control (ESC): This is one of the most important safety features that has been used in cars. The ESC works by detecting inconsistencies between the driver's inputs at the steering wheel and the movement of the car. The system then applies the brake for the appropriate wheel to correct the over or understeer. This way, the driver can regain control of the car and get out of a slide with ease.
This is achieved by the ESC system using a combination of Traction Control and Anti-Lock Braking System. If the system detects that skidding is imminent, in situations such as very sharp or high speed turns, it intervenes by applying braking power to individual wheels and/or reducing engine power in order to restore the vehicle's stability.
Anti-lock Braking System/ Traction Control System: Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) is again, one of the most important safety features used with vehicles. It is important as it reduces the stopping distance and prevents wheel-lockup under hard or panic braking.
Under hard braking, the force might be too much for tyres to handle, and the wheels might lock. This is extremely dangerous because the tyres now use sliding friction instead of rolling friction. With this, the contact patch gets heated up rapidly, rubber melts, and instead of helping the car stop, the liquid rubber acts as a lubricant and increases the stopping distance. When ABS is used, the system kicks in within milliseconds and controls the braking pressure by releasing and reapplying the brake very rapidly. This way, the wheel doesn’t remain locked, and the car stops much faster and earlier than without ABS. This is a particularly important safety feature to have while driving on slippery roads.
Traction control system is a piece of technology that has been developed from ABS. While climbing steep gradients or while starting off on slippery surfaces, the amount of power delivered from the engine through the transmission, and to the wheels might be too much for the situation. Wheelspin is detected by the system and the torque delivered to the wheels is modulated either by reducing the troque sent from the engine, or by braking each wheel individually to correct wheelspin as quickly as possible to the optimum level.
While this is a list features, we think, all cars should have, being alert and spotting signs of danger on the road ahead will take you a long way.