Mazda Smart Ciry Brake Support (c) Mazda

Safety first: the latest features looking after you

From the dawn of the motor vehicle, safety has been a major concern. Man (and woman) hasn’t evolved to the point that they can survive a crash strapped inside a rigid metal box, so over the years manufacturers have had to develop more complex and more advanced safety systems to lessen the risk of injury in the event of a crash.

Fast forward to 2013, over 100 years after the car was first made, and the capability engineered into the crop of modern safety aids in vehicles today is nothing short of amazing. Here are the best safety features on the market today.

AUTONOMUS BRAKING SYSTEMS

The latest safety gadget to emerge in the automotive sector is autonomous city braking. This technology uses radar sensors in the front bumper to detect a slowing car or pedestrian stepping out in front of you.

If it doesn’t register an input from the driver, i.e. swerving to avoid the object or slamming on the brakes, it will do the latter for you to try and avoid or mitigate the impacts of a crash.

Mazda is one of the pioneers of this type of technology, with its Smart City Brake Support function launched on the Mazda CX5 crossover. It’s been received with critical acclaim, too, having scooped the Scottish Car of the Year Safety Award  thanks to the clever new tech.

NIGHT VISION CAMERAS

Infrared night vision detection systems are still in their infancy, so the technology is expensive and therefore only found on high-end luxury saloons. But it can help you spot things in bad light that you might not otherwise have seen.

Using infrared thermal imaging technology, it can pick up a pedestrian walking along the road at night far before the human eye has a hope of doing.

Usually displayed on a central screen in the instrument display, it’ll then visually and audibly warn you there is something there, preparing you to slow down and take avoiding action before you’ve even seen the obstacle.

PEDESTRIAN AIRBAGS

Vehicle safety systems are not just about protecting occupants – hence the development of softer materials for bonnets and bumpers, as well the creation of voids between the bonnet and the engine block. Cars have had internal airbags for a long time, so why shouldn’t they have external ones, too, just in case you hit a pedestrian?

Some manufacturers have already begun to roll this technology out on their road cars, with an airbag that deploys from the base of the bonnet, protecting the base of the windscreen and A-pillars (basically the hard areas of a car) in the event of a collision with a person.

Pedestrian airbag (c) Volvo

BLIND SPOT MONITORING AND LANE KEEP ASSIST

These two features have been around for a while, but it doesn’t stop them performing a life-saving manoeuvre without you even noticing.

A little LED in your wing mirror tells you not to pull out on the motorway as there’s a car just where you can’t see it, while lane keep assist does exactly what it says on the tin – for those drivers whose concentration wavers behind the wheel, the fitment of these two gadgets could be the difference between a huge accident and an innocuous aborted lane change.

Together with our next featured safety system, this technology is evolving, too.

ATTENTION ASSISTANCE

Many cars now feature a host of sensors that monitor your driving style to assess if your concentration is waning, recommending that you take a break if so.

Using inputs from sensors used for blind spot and lane keep assist, the more advanced system scan also monitor your respiratory levels to see if your breathing patterns change. If this slows down, it could be a sign that you’re getting sleepy, so your car will alert you it’s time to pull over for a few, if not forty winks.

HIGH-STRENGTH CONSTRUCTION

Safety features don’t just have to be active, though. They can also be passive. Mazda has explored the use of ultra-light yet ultra-strong steel for use in in its latest Skyactiv vehicles, such as the Mazda CX% and Mazda 6 saloon and estate variants.

The special construction of these cars involves a central safety cell, which absorbs and dissipates energy around the passenger compartment in a collision, offering improved protection for the vehicle’s occupants.

It’s a clever example of squeezing every last drop of protection out of something we all take for granted. Just because it’s under the car’s skin and we can’t see it, it doesn’t mean it’s your run of the mill chassis.

HIGH BEAM HEADLIGHT ASSIST

Far from being a new gadget that manufacturers use to try and improve sales, the modern crop of headlight high beam assist functions actually brings a benefit when it comes to safety.

If it means you don’t have to take your hands off the wheel to dip the headlights when passing another car at night (something that requires even more concentration on a narrow country road) it means you’ll be in better control of the car at all times.

Add to that the system will switch between dip and main beams lights by itself, and it eradicates the chances of dazzling the oncoming driver, which could potentially cause them to have an accident.

360-DEGREE ‘AROUND VIEW’ CAMERAS

More and more new vehicles are being equipped with cameras in all corners of the car, giving you a better idea of what’s around you when manoeuvring. The images are displayed on an in-car screen to help with parking, and while this may sound like a gimmick, it’s actually a cool safety gadget.

Even low speed impacts with pedestrians or parked cars can cause serious injury or damage costing hundreds, if not thousands of pounds. Having a function to improve your visibility all round means these bumps can be avoided, reducing the risk of causing injury to people – after all, where you’ll be manoeuvring or parking is likely to be where pedestrian traffic is at its most dense.

STABILITY SYSTEMS

Traction control and stability systems have come a long way in the last decade, and they’re set to improve further still. These features take data from every possible sensor on the vehicle, monitoring every possible parameter to assess grip against a number of different factors, such as brake or accelerator input, steering input, gear position, speed, engine revs – this list is almost endless.

Combing technology such as Electronic Brake Assist, Electronic Brake Force Distribution with torque vectoring systems and electronic cornering control functions – not to mention standard traction control and Electronic Stability Programmes – vehicle dynamics are now more sophisticated than ever, making us safer drivers as a result.

What safety systems would you like to see featured on cars of the future? Have you had a crash or a near miss that could have been avoided by some of the systems above? We want to hear from you if so.

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