AUTO TECH AND ROAD SAFETY

Give it a Brake!

Give it a Brake! image

Text: Vic Rosales / Photos: Vic Rosales | posted January 28, 2008 09:28

Advanced braking systems for better safety

When driving at 30 miles per hour (49 kilometers per hour) it takes six car lengths to stop your average car. If you get the urge to speed up to 35 mph, an addition of 5 mph (about 5.3 km/h), there will be an increase of 16% in speed. With the added 5 mph there is a 36% increase in kinetic energy in the car. The small increase of speed thus affects the braking distance needed for a full stop. Imagine that you are driving along a school zone at 25 mph (40 km/h) and you take your eye off the road for a moment, either to see if your sibling is already out, to change the radio or just to watch the dancing traffic enforcer usher pedestrians across the street. In that small instance your foot gets a bit heavier and in a flash you're going faster than you should on a crash course for a kid shorter than your knee. Children, especially young toddlers have skulls that have not fully hardened. It doesn't take much to knock them unconscious compared to adults. A small nudge on their cranium could lead to permanent brain damage or worse, death. How's that for something to live with for the rest of your life?

Stopping distance is affected by a number of factors, including load, condition of the road surface, tires, brakes, driver skill and design and type of vehicle. All these will not change the laws of physics. So when driving, its best to be a defensive driver, be conservative with your braking distance estimate so you'll have enough space to properly slow down.

Between you and speed related crashes are the brakes of your car. That's why its one of the most tested characteristics of a vehicle, from sports car to SUV. Strong brakes make people more confident on the road and on the track. On the road, people should be aware of the condition of their brakes since stop and go traffic can wear your vehicle's brake system just as much as the hard braking for heel-and-toeing.

Humans aren't perfect though, that's why its good to know that car companies are implementing safety systems into their vehicles that supplement those who don't have reflexes like Michael Schumacher. Car companies like Volvo, Mercedez-Benz and BMW are constantly innovating braking technologies and implementing them in their products. Volvo, being one of the more notable innovators of braking tech for the invention of the Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) in 1984. The system, which can be found on almost all vehicle makes has saved countless lives by giving the driver the ability to steer the vehicle during emergency braking situations. Under hard braking, brake systems with no ABS may lock under hard braking, making the vehicle skid because the tires have locked. ABS modulates the brakes, keeping them from locking the wheel, letting you direct the car to a safer path.

But which car models in the Philippines can give us the same safety tech found in first world countries? Often, car manufacturers scrimp on safety gear to get the cost down for our market.

Cruising along to the main Volvo dealership along Pasong Tamo, Makati, one can find local models of the Volvo S80, V70 and XC70 which can be fitted with custom options like collision with auto-brake systems that assist the driver with braking to prevent rear-end collisions. The Volvo collision system uses radar and a camera, the radar with a 150-meter range while the camera with 55 meters. The system then combines information from both camera and radar to alert the driver with a red warning flash on the heads-up display on the windshield and also with an audible beep. The system then prepares the brakes by putting the pads closer to the disc to shorten reaction time once the driver uses it. If the driver does not react despite the warning and the risk of collision increases, the brake support is activated and the car will automatically apply brake pressure to slow the vehicle down. Try not to fiddle with your radio while driving, but at least if you can't control the impulse, you'll have some leeway to correct possible fatal accidents.

Technology similar to this can be found on other vehicles in the country like the Mercedes Benz S-class and the BMW 7-series but at 2 to 3 times the cost of a Volvo with similar trim. Volvos are renowned the world over for their orientation towards safety and no longer look like square boxes, late models sculpted with strongly curved body panels. It also doesn't hurt that for the price, they are as luxurious as their European counterparts.

Fitted stock on most Volvos I've seen are huge brake discs. These wheels fitted with matching massive brake calipers give a strong bite when you press on the brakes. The two parts work in tandem. Think of a CD spinning around, that's your brake disc, to stop the plate from spinning around you pinch it with your fingers, those are your brake pads and calipers. If you increase the size of your discs without matching the calipers to them, the surface area biting down on the discs does not change. The bigger surface area of the disc helps in dissipating heat from braking, while the bigger calipers and pads give a larger surface for it to bite down on the disc.

All the braking tech won't save you if you're brakes fail. Remember to follow conservative periodic maintenance for your brakes. Check the brake lines for leaks; the discs for cracks or warping and the pads for wear. And please, don't drill your stock brake discs for the porma factor. You're just compromising the integrity of the metal.

Next time you get into a new car, don't be enraptured by the car's handling or speed alone, test out the brakes, this may stop all the speed, but its what keeps your soul in this world. That pedal is about saving lives silly!