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Consumer Reports

'Smart' tech helps avoid crashes | (UPI) -- The latest in vehicle high-tech safety features can give drivers extra reaction time to avoid dangerous crashes, an equipment manufacturer told United Press International.

"The seconds before a crash are critical, because the best way to avoid injuries is to avoid accidents in the first place," said Phil Headley, chief engineer, advanced technologies, for Continental Teves North America.

The company's products, designed to improve a driver's reaction time, or help avoid a vehicle driven by an impaired driver, are the result of automotive safety technology developed over the last decade and installed in a growing number of new vehicles, he said. Perhaps the best known of these technologies is the antilock brake system, designed to give drivers greater control in stopping situations. ABS senses when a wheel has locked and begun to skid. It automatically releases the brake and allows the driver to steer to a safe stop.

Brake assist is a similar technology. It applies the brakes almost instantly and with full force when needed. It compensates for the fact that in emergency situations, research has shown most drivers fail to apply full brake pressure. Brake Assist allows the vehicle to come to a stop in up to 45 percent shorter stopping distances.

Traction control systems are designed to prevent vehicles from going into unexpected skids on wet and slippery roads. When activated, TCS prevents wheels from spinning and improves acceleration. The systems most often are found on larger vehicles such as mini-vans and SUVs.

The electronic stability program is designed to reduce incidences of vehicle rollovers. ESP is an interactive system designed to detect actual road conditions automatically and compensate for dangerous situations. The system constantly compares a driver's intended course with the vehicle's actual path.

"We're always looking for ways to make a vehicle more intelligent," Headley said.

Smart technologies such as ESP and TCS were developed for high-end car models, but are now available on a number of mid-priced passenger cars, minivans and SUVs. At present, none of these technologies are required equipment on new vehicles, although the federal government is considering such requirements.

"The government looked at antilock braking systems several times during the 1990s. A 1995 study concluded ABS provided mixed results," said Liz Nablett, spokeswoman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in Washington. "Even though they aren't required, a lot of vehicle manufacturers offer them because of consumer demand," she added.

Nablett said the government is in the final rulemaking phase of a regulation requiring new technology to monitor tire pressure. As part of the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability, and Documentation -- or TREAD -- Act, the proposed rule would require all new vehicles to have tire pressure monitoring systems that warn drivers when a tire is significantly under-inflated.

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