It's been more than 40 years since Congress made seat belts mandatory in vehicles, improving automotive safety and helping reduce fatalities in vehicle accidents. Perhaps the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has kicked off another significant safety milestone -- making electronic stability control equipment mandatory in all vehicles, estimating that the universal adoption of this technology by 2011 will save 10,000 lives per year.

Safety equipment has assisted in protecting vehicle occupants for many years, and over the past decade, the emphasis has shifted from passive to active safety systems, including accident avoidance technology. Stability control is among a slew of new auto-safety advancements designed to help prevent accidents. This exciting technology builds on the increasing electronic sophistication of all vehicles.

From cell phones to children to mocha lattes, drivers' attention is sometimes diverted from the road, where their eyes need to be focused. Technology that assists in accident avoidance combines a number of highly sophisticated systems that provide more than warnings. For example: brake, throttle and steering control help keep a vehicle in the right lane, pointed in the right direction and under control.

Some refer to these high-tech safety systems as "co-drivers" or "assistants," but the technology never takes control out of the driver's hands CR8011. Depending on the system and manufacturer, the driver is usually given sequential sight and sound warnings before computerized controls engage.

Here are a few of the exciting new accident avoidance technologies that are grabbing headlines.

Smart Cruise Control

Smart Cruise Control systems rely on vision and/or radar technology to maintain a set following distance or time gap from vehicles ahead. This enhances safety and reduces fatigue during long trips in heavy traffic. Each manufacturer provides different parameters for its system; some can operate between 90 mph and a full stop, while others work within a more narrow range of speeds. Some systems adjust speed on distance from the vehicle ahead; others' cruise control systems allow the driver to set a time gap between the equipped car and vehicle ahead. On this system, the same sensors that continually scan the area ahead of the car 20 times a second can also detect a fixed obstacle and imminent collisions. The system not only warns the driver, but it charges the brakes to prepare for a sudden stop.

Collision Mitigation

Collision mitigation takes smart cruise control to another level. It uses forward-looking radar to predict a crash event and autonomously reacts to imminent crash situations. For instance, the system could signal the braking system to charge the brakes for better stopping. These systems are rapidly evolving, and like most sophisticated technologies, they can vary by manufacturer.

Some systems combine two radars: one with a narrow angle aimed at distant objects and a second with a wide angle to measure lateral distance at closer range. The combination gives the car a near 3-D sense of objects around it. Other systems combine long-range radar that focuses on objects, such as other cars, with a short-range beam tuned for people or animals. Some use a multi-mode system that does both. There is also a system under development known as V2V (Vehicle to Vehicle) that would locate other cars on the road using Wi-Fi and GPS technology and provide proper warning if it detects a potentially hazardous driving situation.

Stability Control

Electronic stability control (ESC) has been around for a while; it's an outgrowth of antilock braking and traction control autel mx808 features, introduced in the 1980s. At its most basic, ESC combines the control of braking and throttle to prevent drivers from spinning out on curves or rolling over in sudden maneuvers. The results of studies suggest that passenger cars with electronic stability control are engaged in 35% fewer single-vehicle crashes than the same models without ESC.

Blind Spot and Lane-Departure Warning

Several new high-tech systems have been designed to protect against side-impact collisions. These systems can warn drivers of other vehicles in their side blind spot by illuminating a warning icon in the side mirror when their sensors detect a passing car. An audible warning may also be given.

A related safety feature is lane-departure warning. If a driver drifts out of his or her lane, a warning is sounded or light goes on. In general, these systems use cameras that capture an image of the surrounding highway and dotted roadway lines on both sides of the car and combine the information from speed sensors to calculate motion and course. They provide an alarm and could intervene with steering to help a driver stay in his intended lane. In some of today's systems, warnings are not given when the turn signal is used to indicate a turn; and a manual override can be used to turn lane departure warning off completely.

While these exciting safety technologies represent a huge leap, the fact is the most effective safety technology will always be the safe driving habits of the person behind the wheel. These computer-aided systems rely on visual cues taken from radar or cameras and certainly are a help to drivers, but nothing will replace a driver's ability to make quick decisions and maintain control -- always the best deterrent to avoiding an accident.

Mike Trudel, Freelance Writer. Delphi is a leading innovator of automobile safety equipment and technology. 
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