The evolution of safety technology

Automotive engineers are building on existing safety systems to make today’s vehicle’s safer than ever.

The evolution of safety technology

Tachometer, speedometer, odometer, fuel level and engine temperature. These used to be the only gauges you’d find on your dash, which meant that the amount of information or feedback you’d get from your vehicle used to be very limited.

But much has changed over the decades, and today’s vehicle’s are stuffed with sensors that provide the driver with more information than some of us know what to do with. While some of the information falls into the “nice to have” category, there’s no denying that much of the data the driver now has access to is keeping our roads safer.

More recently, we’ve seen manufacturers taking great safety technologies, and making them even better by adding extra features. Here are just three examples of how innovation is making great ideas even better.

TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System): Low tire pressure not only wastes fuel and decreases the life of your tires, but it can also be dangerous. Once a tire loses enough pressure, it flexes too much, which creates excess heat in the sidewalls, leading to premature tire failure.

That’s why a growing number of vehicles are equipped with TPMS, which constantly monitors tire pressure. If the pressure drops below a predetermined threshold, a warning light tells the driver that there’s a problem. More advanced systems will actually tell the driver what the pressure is in each tire in real time.

Nissan has taken the idea a step further with their “Easy-Fill Tire Alert” system, which takes the guesswork out of properly inflating tires. Using the TPMS, the system alerts the driver to low pressure in one or more of the tires. When alerted, the driver stops at a nearby gas station to fill the tires with air.

Once air begins flowing into the tire, the vehicle's four-way hazard lights flash in order to confirm the process has started. When the tire reaches the appropriate pressure level, the horn chirps to let driver know the tire has been properly inflated. If the driver continues to fill the tire with air, the horn honks more aggressively and the tire deflates to the appropriate operating level.

Lights, camera, safety: Back in the day, when you wanted to know what was behind you, you had to turn your neck and take a look through the rear window. Although that’s still a must when backing up, manufacturers are arming vehicles with cameras that offer a more detailed look at immediate obstacles and dangers.

This is a huge step forward for safety, as it let’s the driver see what’s directly behind his bumper (small children, pets, bicycles, cement barriers, etc.), thereby preventing serious accidents. This is especially useful in larger vehicles where rearward visibility is often limited.

A simple camera is a nice accessory, but manufacturers are taking the idea to new levels with sensors that not only offer a view of the area to the rear of the vehicle, but can also tell the driver if he’s about to back into oncoming traffic (such as when pulling out of a driveway onto a busy street), long before he can see the oncoming vehicle.

Cameras have also gotten fancier over the years, with some models offering multiple views: normal, wide, or hitch view, which is a great idea when you’re trying to line up your hitch with your trailer. The camera switches between modes at the touch of a button.

Blind spot warning system: Checking your blind spot before changing lanes is a no brainer. Nonetheless, not doing so properly (or not doing it at all) causes countless accidents.

That’s why a blind spot warning system makes sense. Sensors located on either side of the vehicle constantly scan both the left and right side of the vehicle, warning the driver if there’s something he needs to be aware of before even thinking of changing lanes.

Most manufacturers equip their vehicles with warning lights either near or on the side mirrors that illuminate the moment another vehicle enters the blind spot on that particular side of the vehicle. If the driver indicates his intention to change lanes with his turn indicator, the system assumes the driver hasn’t seen the warning light, and either offers an audible warning signal, flashes the warning light more aggressively, or both.

Honda takes the idea of blind spot warning a step further. Their new Lane Watch feature provides a view of the passenger’s side blind spot with the aid of a camera that’s mounted on the passenger side mirror. The system allows the driver to see two lanes of traffic on the dashboard screen. The camera comes to life the moment the driver uses the turn indicator, which means he gets an enhanced view of his blind spot when changing lanes, or even when making a right turn into a street, parking lot, driveway, etc. 

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