Test Time

How to spec' to keep your drivers and vehicles safer.


A standard ESC system allows for the vehicle to take over and brake individual wheels when it feels as though the driver has lost control. According to Mercurio, "ESC is best suited to keeping the vehicle in control by following the driver's command, and going where the vehicle is pointed—obviously where the driver's intention is at that time."

Another optional Bosch safety feature is what the company calls "hill descent control." According to Mercurio, this is optimal for off-road applications in slippery conditions or loose road surfaces. With hill descent control, the vehicle is able to detect the level of incline and acceleration rates to help determine whether the brakes need assistance in helping the driver regain control. "It's applying the brake at really low pressure to keep a very constant deceleration rate as the vehicle is going down the hill, holding it to a very small speed range that can be pre-set," he explains. "Maybe you're accelerating faster than you want to. If something comes up where you have to brake again quickly, this provides very steady deceleration rather than the car 'getting away from you.'"

Mercurio suggests that, from a maintenance standpoint, standard ESC and optional hill descent control will not change service intervals on brakes: "It's not something that's going to significantly make a big impact on brake lining wear or something like that. It's not going to drive any higher maintenance rates or costs."

Lighting the Way

Some of your safety spec'ing options are a bit more basic. According to Fred Snow, vice president of lighting manufacturer Hella's aftermarket division, people often underestimate things like good headlights and taillights in maintaining a consistent level of safety. Hella has been proactive in the market in its lighting ventures, attempting to blend audio and visual warning systems into a more comprehensive and safe product line.

"What we have that is unique is in some of our LED beacons," Snow says. "We've come up with a new system that is specific to us, where the LED kit can be set with the dim switch, so it has this operation: when you put the vehicle in reverse, the beacon actually changes its flash pattern. So that will give visible indication that the vehicle has changed to be coming in reverse."

The idea behind this is twofold. One major benefit is that the warning system can function in a loud environment, such as at a construction site, where relying strictly on audio warnings isn't enough. Another is to combat the potential problem that, perhaps, backup alarms are so commonplace that people stop noticing them. "There are so many in the marketplace and people are so used to them that maybe when they hear a backup alarm, it doesn't get the attention that maybe it deserves," Snow says. "It's an important aspect of any warning device to not only know, 'hey, there's something I need to be careful of,' but also, 'where is it?'"

Hella's headlight and taillight line also offers enhanced safety, focusing increasingly more on LEDs. "They illuminate much quicker," Snow says. "At 60 miles per hour, that can mean 10 or 20 feet in distance, in the amount of time it took for an incandescent bulb to illuminate. That's added safety, along with the other benefits of LEDs—they last longer and are more vibration resistant."

A Shining Star in Safety

GM has made its own attempt to incorporate a safety system into its vehicles that covers any number of potential scenarios. GM's OnStar system is a GPS- (global positioning system) based driver interface that allows the user access to routing features, as well as accident response mechanisms and a 24-hour operator service.

Fritz Beiermeister, director of business sales and marketing for GM's OnStar division, explains some of the specifics: "What OnStar does is, if somebody hits something out on the road and an airbag deploys, the car will automatically make a call for help. Then we get a screen that pops up at the call center that, on one half of the screen, will basically give us the vehicle information. The other half of the screen is a map where that vehicle is located. That is accurate within 20 meters in the US and Canada, the geographies that we cover," he says.

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