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Safer driving - part 1

Broadcast dates : 13th June 2004
17th June 2004


As one of the country's top advanced driving instructors, Clint Weston spends a large part of his working day driving cars equipped with the latest active and passive safety devices.

However, Clint is very much aware that the vast majority of motorcars on our roads are five, ten, or even 15 years old.

Cars built a few generations ago are not equipped with even the very basic items so many of us take for granted today, like anti-lock braking systems.

This even applies to many of the new base models on our roads today, such as Fiat Unos, Volkswagen Golfs and Toyota Tazzes. And twenty years ago, when this Mercedes 200 was considered a very luxurious mid-sized sedan, as far as safety went it has a very solid body shell, good fundamental road-holding, safety belts, and that was about it.

The key to these massive advances in both active and passive safety features has been the increasing use of automotive electronics.

The 1984 Mercedes 200 had very little in the way of electronics, apart from the engine's ignition system. Although ABS, or anti-lock braking, was available on the very top BMW and Mercedes models in those days, four-wheel disc brakes were considered state of the art.

With a modern luxury car, such as this 2004 Mercedes 200E, electronics have been used to override poor driving habits and lack of road awareness.

The basis for all these devices is the ABS braking system, which uses sensors on the brake discs to monitor their speed of rotation.

In the case of heavy braking, when the sensors detect one or more wheels locking up, or about to start skidding, pressure is released to the relevant brake caliper, thus keeping the brake disc, and the tyre, rotating at the optimum speed for braking effect.

This same sensor concept is now used to prevent wheel spin when the driver applies too much power for the drive wheels to retain adhesion.

The sensors send a signal to the electronic engine management system and power is decreased until traction is restored. So sorry boys and girls, wheelspin is a thing of the past in many modern cars.

A further advancement of this is a device known as corner-assist in generic terms, although each company has its own trademark name for what is essentially the same system.

With additional sensors measuring steering action and body roll, as well as a loss of traction on either of the car's four wheels, this system brakes individual systems to rectify a skid developing in a corner, even when the brakes aren't being applied.

In practice, the if the right front wheel was losing traction, which would result in the car ploughing straight on in a left-hand corner, the device would instantaneously brake the right rear wheel, and in some cases the left front wheel, to rectify the car's angle to it

These devices are fantastic in helping an inexperienced driver avoid accidents. But they should be used with regard to other road users.

So if you are the driver of an expensive car with all these latest devices, you should bear in mind that your car would probably stop a lot faster than cars without these devices.

Keep an eye out for who is behind you or in front of you on the road. If you are in an older or basic car, realise that you should give the modern car ahead of you even more of a gap than you normally would.

Conversely, if there is an old banger on the freeway behind you, allow for this if you may have to brake suddenly.

The bottom line in driver safety is all about constant driver awareness and driving defensively, compensating for those around you.

And yes, driving with more awareness makes driving more fun.

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