Passive and active safety systems in the car: how do they differ?

What are the differences between active and passive safety systems? How do they work in an accident?

Technology is playing in favor of road safety, equipping vehicles with advanced and innovative active and passive safety systems. ABS, airbags, seat belts, emergency braking systems, lane departure warning… What is the difference between active and passive safety? Do you know how to recognize each of its elements?

Having information about each of them and their function is highly recommended for choosing a car that meets our needs in terms of safety level. However, it is always advisable to have good roadside assistance to help us when we are involved in an incident or accident.

Active safety: what is its purpose?

The main objective of the elements that make up active safety is to avoid a traffic accident. The best known and most widespread are the anti-lock braking system or ABS, which prevents the brakes from locking during heavy braking; stability control or ESP, which maintains the trajectory in the event of a skid risk; traction control, which prevents the wheels from losing grip and skidding; and tire pressure control, which warns the driver when the pressure is incorrect.

Technology is advancing by leaps and bounds and in recent years there has been an explosion of driving assistance systems, also known as ADAS, which undoubtedly help the driver and reduce the risk of an accident. And they do so thanks to the use of cameras, radars and laser technology capable of identifying the road and detecting the presence of objects, people, cyclists or animals.

These new active safety systems include forward collision warning (FCW/PCS), automatic emergency braking (AEB/AEBS/PEBS/SCBS), lane departure warning (LDW, Lane Assist) and lane keeping assistant, reversing assistant, adaptive cruise control (ACC), traffic sign recognition (TSR), safety distance assistant, fatigue detector and blind spot monitoring (BLIS/BSM/RVM), among many others.

Passive safety acts in the accident

Passive safety integrates elements and devices whose function is to prevent or reduce serious or fatal injuries that may occur after an accident or collision. In other words, when active safety has not prevented the accident, passive safety systems come into play to reduce its consequences.

Safety has been gaining importance among buyers, even more so than price. Key elements of passive safety include seat belts, airbags and head restraints. All three have become the great allies of drivers on their journeys due to their high level of effectiveness.

The seat belt is considered the most important passive safety element because it has saved the most lives since it was invented in 1959. According to DGT data, seat belts reduce the risk of death after an accident by 90%. In the case of children, they must be restrained with their corresponding child restraint system (CRS).

Proper use of the seat belt is key to the correct functioning of the airbag (SRS) and the head restraint. The function of the airbag is to absorb part of the body’s kinetic energy, avoid impact against interior elements of the car and thus reduce the risk of injury. The most modern cars can now include up to seven types of airbag.

The function of the head restraint is to prevent whiplash by reducing neck injuries in the event of a collision. To this end, it must be positioned correctly, with its upper edge at eye level.

Other passive safety elements included in a vehicle are the laminated windshield, eCall emergency call system, bodywork with resistant steel and programmable deformation chassis to minimize risks in the passenger compartment.

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