An increasing number of vehicles on the market are coming equipped with automatic braking systems. Consumers might not understand what these systems do or how they function, leading to considerable confusion.
To start off, not all vehicle automatic braking systems are the same. Some systems only prepare the car for a quicker braking response once the sensors detect an impending impact. A common braking preparation involves the car moving the brake pads so they are only a few millimeters from the rotors, enabling the driver to stop the car at least several feet sooner. Other systems lightly apply the brakes to slow the car down, allowing the driver to apply the brakes the rest of the way to bring the car to a full stop. The most advanced automatic braking systems actually apply the full power of the brakes, stopping the vehicle before a collision occurs.
Instead of just preparing the brakes, lightly applying them or fully stopping the vehicle, automatic braking systems also feature a warning system of some sort. In some vehicles there is a warning light that illuminates to warn the driver of the impending collision so the driver knows to apply the brakes, similar to the warning lights for low engine oil or coolant. Some automatic braking systems feature a flashing light mounted elsewhere in the vehicle, such as on the A-pillar or in the center stack. Many systems use both a light and an audible warning to ensure the driver does not ignore the warning of an inevitable collision.
What a vehicle’s automatic braking system detects is dependent on its sensors. Some vehicles are outfitted with a radar or laser system that literally detects the distance from the front of the vehicle to any objects ahead. These systems take into consideration the speed of the vehicle as well as the speed of the detected objects before taking action. Other systems feature cameras or infrared sensors that literally read what kinds of objects are in front of the car, even detecting stop signs, pedestrians, cyclists and red lights. Still other systems come with GPS tracking software that has loaded into it the locations of all local stop signs and other road obstacles that require the driver to brake.