They say ignorance is bliss. Driving in Manila though will cause stormy weather even for the most Manila hardened drivers, especially if one is caught unaware of the many hazards plying our roads. It thus helps to have as many driving aids we can afford to supplement the everyday hazard we face on the street.
In my last article I talked about brakes and some of the safety tech car manufacturers like Volvo have made to make our lives a bit safer when going about our daily routine. I'd like to venture to other gadgets found in cars found locally, from simple but ever-reliable Civics, to top of the line Benzes. More specifically I'll hover over BLIS, a camera based system that is used to cover blind spots, airbags and crumple zones.
Let's start with one high-tech convenience I enjoyed playing with which can be found in Volvos. The Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) that can be found on the Volvo C30, XC70 and S80. The system gives warnings through a visual signal located by the side mirror panes to tell the driver there are objects in his blind spot. When something comes up, a yellow spot lights up to inform the driver of their surroundings. This system may remind the tech savvy of options found already on BMWs and Benzes that warn the driver of objects near their bumper, but what makes BLIS interesting is that it is specifically integrated into side-mirrors for blind spots.
Blind spots can often be fixed through proper adjustment of the side mirrors but there are some vehicles, like SUVs and cars with large obtrusive body panels that are so big that one can?t expect to see everything through their relatively tiny side mirrors. Manufacturers in their efforts to reduce drag and match side mirrors to their more curvaceous body panels have often had to reduce the size of these mirrors, further exacerbating the problem of blind spots.
Hence, the appreciation for BLIS. The system, using cameras connected below the side mirrors of the Volvo, check the blind spots alongside and offset the rear. What makes this so cool is that the system can recognize cars and motorcycles. The car can go crazy when going through a busy pedestrian/motorcycle intersection; luckily it can be shut off via button found on the center console. Driving on highways will see good use BLIS. A blind spot while changing lanes can make the difference between a life changing crash and just another day on the road.
If you're unlucky enough to get into a crash, having a crumple zone in your car can save your life. Crumple zones are like shells that encapsulate you during a head-on collision. They are part of the main structure of the vehicle, distributing the force of impact. Like the name suggests, crumple zones break apart so that you don?t have to take most of the pain. This is the same kind of technology found in formula 1 cars and though some will argue this makes repairs on the cars more expensive, studies have shown that they do save lives. Crumple zones can be found on mid-sized executive saloons like the Nissan Cefiro, Chrysler 300C and all late variants of BMW and Benz It's a lot more common in today's modern vehicle so you might want to check brochures of the model you're interested in while car shopping.
Supplementing the crumple zones would be airbags. Air bags are those white pillow looking devices you see coming out from the steering wheel or the passenger side dash panel that provide cushioning for the head and chest areas during high speed crashes. Not all crashes will activate an airbag, and rightfully so. Air bags will only deploy based on manufacturer presets, certain speeds and forces measured by car sensors. An airbag deploying unnecessarily can cause more damage. Imagine getting into a light fender bender and having the gas in the airbag combust in flames or the cover of the steering wheel slapping your face at high speed. The cost in medical bills and replacing airbags are extremely high so these safety devices must trigger only when really needed. Also, remember that airbags must be used in tandem with your seatbelt. Without it you could end up like a pinball being slapped between your seat and the wheel. The seatbelt works to hold you back, while the airbags are inflated at precise amounts to support the seatbelts.
In high tech cars like Mercedes Benz S classes or E classes with the pre-safe system, the car can measure the amount of pressure for the airbags and restraint needed by the seatbelts based on speed to keep your noggin from cracking like an egg. When buying entry-level variants, be sure to check if it does come with an airbag. Retro fitting one is a lot of trouble and local manufacturers have been known to remove them to cut costs on models with less standard trim. Luckily airbags are ubiquitous nowadays, part of safety tech trickling down the car hierarchy for everyday CRVs and Corollas.
The simple purpose of this system is not lost on those just looking for aesthetic cues for their new car. People who buy these extra safety features often get bragging rights from something as small as extra badges around the car promoting their special spec to extra chrome linings and trim around the body. For not so common tech like BLIS, you get a camera trimmed by a chrome metal strip which gives the already space age looking Volvo an even more futuristic stance.
Don't let these aids make you over confident and ignorant of your responsibility as a driver. According to a report by the Philippine National Police Traffic Management Group, from January to December 2007, there was a total of 11,532 traffic accidents on our roads. 3,960 or 34.34% of which were caused by driver error. All the safety systems in the world won't save you if you're drunk or just plain incompetent on the road.