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Active Safety TechnologiesNotes From the Road

Active Safety Technologies - Discern the definitions of systems that help you handle the unforeseen.
By The Editors/

Next to the driver's attention and skill behind the wheel, the most important ingredients for motoring safety are a vehicle's accident-avoidance features. These are sometimes referred to as "active safety" features because, in simple terms, they "actively" help the driver avoid an accident.

Active safety features are designed to help the driver retain control of the vehicle in situations where he or she might otherwise lose control. Typical scenarios where active safety features may help the driver include slippery winter conditions, winding mountain roads, or sudden traffic jams on the freeway.

Several important active safety features became popular on higher-end vehicles beginning in the late 1980s and have since become more mainstream. Here are the key active safety features on many of today's vehicles.

Anti-lock Braking System (ABS)
What it is: Anti-Lock Braking Systems are designed to keep the wheels from locking up during hard braking, or during normal braking on slippery surfaces. First and foremost, this helps the driver retain steering control; in some situations, ABS can also help shorten stopping distances.

How it works: A microprocessor or control unit continually compares the rotational speed of the wheels via electronic sensors located at each wheel. During braking, if the control unit determines that one of the wheels has locked up, it directs an ABS hydraulic system to individually and rapidly "pump" that brake until its rotational speed is back in line with the other wheels.

What it feels like: The feel of ABS actuation varies from vehicle to vehicle, but it typically is felt through a pulsing action through the brake pedal, and may include the sound of the hydraulic pump working. This is normal, and the driver should maintain steady pressure on the brake pedal (without "pumping" the pedal) until the vehicle has slowed sufficiently to be out of danger.

How it benefits the driver: ABS can help the driver avoid an accident by enabling him or her to steer out of trouble in an emergency-braking maneuver, or to maintain directional control during normal braking on a slippery surface.

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